Around the frame : Pre-Raphaelite Painting

Pour ceux – et Dieu sait que vous êtes nombreux 😉 – qui se sont toujours intéressés à la notion de “cadre” dans les oeuvres pré-raphaelites, voici un petit bout d’introduction, comme un amuse-bouche un peu gras, de mon mémoire écrit il y a 5 ans déjà ! It’s in English, have fun…


This is where everything begins and yet, is already. Origination, establishment, inception, the introduction is a preliminary. It presents something else, implies a sequel. Placed in front of, before, the introduction is the announcement of what the reader is about to read and it is what he is already reading. The introduction defines, questions, announces, forms and frames.

First in order, bedrock, foundation, the introduction is told after it has foretold and epitomises the fact that we are in quest of foundations. That is why the introduction is, paradoxical as it may seem, often written a posteriori, with the conclusion, framing then the “body” or the substance of the work. “Head” of the work, placed above, the introduction sets out the title. It is a heading leading the reader toward a specific development. It constitutes an essential detour to define the subject.

Introducing is defining, delimiting the heart of the purpose but also inviting and guiding, providing a specific meaning through a selective approach. In fact, “to introduce” means to lead inside. The inside is the subject, then subjected to the introduction, pretext leading to the text. The role the introduction plays in this system of duction can be assimilated to the role the picture frame plays in Art. Both initiate, carve, open the centre, the middle, outline and encircle to contain. The introduction and the picture frame determine and form an inside they explicitly announce. At the same time initial and paradigm, they guide us to their content in arousing our curiosity. The frame opens up an abyss just like the introduction, meta-frame, initiates an essay. To introduce means to open, to find the keyhole and its key in order to have access to the internal system of painting. During this entering, the framing process is too often disregarded. That is why we have decided to re-introduce the picture frame. If the frame is seen as the introduction of the work of art, how can we introduce our subject ? How can we introduce an introduction? How can we penetrate into this abysmal aperture?

Introducing the frame is already flitting from it. Once introduced, the frame is left aside, forgotten, revealing the canvas it encloses at its expense. The painting is “beheaded”, amputated when the picture frame is suspended. That is why we have decided to stay “around the frame”, in order not to override it and to restore its function in art, especially in “Pre-Raphaelite painting.”

The aforementioned reflections lead us to a specific point of view which seems important to adopt if one wants to understand the concept of art in its internal necessity and integrity. Sketching the frame of this work is a way to define the artistic interest of the picture frame in Pre-Raphaelite art and, in order to do so, we need to consider the picture frame and its scopic function as a postulate, a prerequisite in order to question it later, at every stage of our advance. That is why we first need to penetrate the picture frame, guided by our desire of Beauty. We need to get in to get out. It is essential to penetrate the frame in order to apprehend and comprehend it in its relationship with the picture, to question it hermeneutically.

With the Pre-Raphaelite picture frame, we decided to give a narrower entrance to our subject, to restrain the frame our work. We shall consider the painting as a cloth and we shall attempt to follow its multiple threads to study their entanglements not only in but also with the picture frame, essential framework of art. We shall study Pre-Raphaelite painting in order to expand to its edges, to get onto the picture frame. In doing so, we consider Pre-Raphaelite painting as a pretext to re-frame the margins of the picture frame, marginal subject in the history of art, to go beyond the ellipsis of the picture frame.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a revisionist current formed in 1848 to challenge the Academic tradition. Yoked together with the same term “Pre-Raphaelite”, some artists like Dante Gabriel Rossetti, instigator of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, and John Everett Millais have visually little in common. Nevertheless, their works were linked by other factors. Connected personally and culturally, this network of artists shared their interest for medieval poetry, minutely studied landscaped and women. A versatile group of artists, the Pre-Raphaelite circle can be seen as an inner group of close friends sharing social and artistic values, but also as a loose circle with a larger fringe in and out of which some artists moved. In fact, between the 1840s and the 1860s, the original members of the Brotherhood developed diverse approaches in discovering that their aspirations pulled in different directions. Pre-Raphaelitism was defined by and estranged from the picture frame. Relentlessly playing with the concept of framing, the marginal artists dismantled Art concepts in order to elucidate the link between a picture and its frame and so is the aim of our work.

Our discourse about Pre-Raphaelite painting aims to reproduce the limitations which constituted their art in studying the different aspects of the picture frame. Frame of mind and protective rampart, the first frame we shall penetrate is ideological and defines the Pre-Raphaelite circle. Within this circle, versatile artists worked together with different forms of art. Painting, poetry, sculpture were reformed in order to fit in their ideological frame. Both a position and an opposition, the frame defines Pre-Raphaelitism. As an essential accessory, the picture frame cooperates with the painting. As a tangible margin, the Pre-Raphaelite picture frame is innovative and unique. Its conception by the Pre-Raphaelite artists gave birth to a specific representation of the picture frame. Between continuity and contiguity, the Pre-Raphaelite picture frame is a part of the work of art as a whole: pre-Raphaelite painting gives the picture frame a right place in keeping with its dignity.

Screen shot 2013-08-21 at 19.54.15



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