Mauritshuis frames: Part II: trophy frames

by theframeblog

This article, by the assistant curator of the Mauritshuis, The Hague, was first published as: Anne Lenders, ‘Trophy Frames’, Mauritshuis in focus, 27 (2014), nr 1, pp. 14-21.

Mauritshuis trophy frames hang

 The trophy frames hanging in the Staircase Gallery of the Mauritshuis; from the left, Ferdinand Bol & Willem van de Velde, Michiel de Ruyter, 1667; Jan Mijtens, Wolfert van Brederode, c.1663; and Ferdinand Bol, Engel de Ruyter, 1669, Mauritshuis

The Mauritshuis owns three original, seventeenth century trophy frames, so-called because they are lavishly decorated with items of military gear, including powder kegs, drums, arquebuses or petronels, spears, powder horns, pistols, cannon, anchors, coils of rope, rams for loading the cannon, pouches, torches, powder scoops, and various trumpets, cornets, etc. These frames hold Ferdinand Bol’s portraits of Michiel and Engel de Ruyter and Jan Mijtens’s portrait of Wolfert van Brederode. The renovation of the Mauritshuis was a perfect time to examine and conserve these three exceptional frames, which usually hang high up in the Staircase Gallery. The project was sponsored by the Johan Maurits Compagnie Foundation.

All three trophy frames date from the second half of the seventeenth century, an era in which a number of such frames were produced in the Republic. The trophies on the frames emphasize the sitters’ military successes, and so are a fitting accompaniment to portraits of military heroes. Although these men’s reputations live on, the frames around their portraits were not made to last for eternity. The trophy frames had not undergone conservation treatment since 1987, so it is hardly surprising that their condition could have been better. In addition, they were marred by later gilding and finishing coats, which had been applied over the original gilding.

A preliminary examination was carried out to establish the present condition of the frames, and to determine their original appearance before starting treatment. Complete restoration, which would reveal the original finish, seemed too risky and time-consuming; indeed, it was quite possible that very little of the original gilding would be left. The aim of the treatment was therefore to improve the condition of the frames, to prevent further deterioration, and to approximate their original appearance, without removing the layers of gilding present.

Eric Bernahrd & Renzo Meurs Eric Bernhard and Renzo Meurs at work on the frame of Wolfert van Brederode’s portrait.

The Mauritshuis approached two external specialists, the frame restorers Renzo Meurs and Eric Bernhard, to help with this project. Over the past year they have examined and treated the frames, under the supervision of Petria Noble, Head of Paintings Conservation at the Mauritshuis.

Art historical research

Until now little art historical research had been conducted on these trophy frames – although the ground-breaking publication Prijst de lijst: De Hollandse schilderijlijst in de zeventiende eeuw, published in 1984 (the revised English version, Framing in the Golden Age: Picture and frame in 17th century Holland, appeared in 1995) discusses the frames surrounding the portraits of Michiel de Ruyter and Wolfert van Brederode in detail.

Jan Lievens Maerten Harpertsz Tromp Art market sm

Jan Lievens, Maerten Harpertsz Tromp, Art market

And, as Michiel Jonker of the Mauritshuis noted, in his review of the English translation[1],

‘Such studies can turn up some surprising discoveries, as in the case of a trophy frame surrounding a portrait of Admiral Maerten Harpertsz Tromp by Jan Lievens, which proves to have been copied from the frame of Ferdinand Bol’s portrait of Michiel de Ruyter in the Mauritshuis. Except for a new coat of arms, the frame is a smaller replica of its model.’

Little else had been written about these frames in particular, or about trophy frames in general. Now, however, research has been undertaken into the commissioning, provenance and previous treatments of the frames in connection with their conservation treatment. This research also included the identification of the various objects on the frames. Historical photographs show that a number of elements missing from the frames were actually present several decades before. An overview was also drawn up of the variants of the three portraits and other original trophy frames, which provided an important point of reference when treating the frames.

Ferdinand Bol & Willem van de Velde Michiel de Ruyter Mauritshuis sm

Ferdinand Bol with Willem van de Velde II, Portrait of Michiel de Ruyter, 1667, Mauritshuis

Ferdinand Bol painted six versions of this portrait. De Ruyter’s success in the Four Day War of 1666 prompted the five admiralties of the Dutch Republic to hang a portrait of the celebrated admiral in each of their council chambers. The admiralties were located in Middelburg, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Harlingen, and – alternately – Enkhuisen and Hoorn. Of the four paintings still known from the series of six, only the portrait in the Mauritshuis is still in its original trophy frame. It is the version recorded in the Admiralty Chamber, Amsterdam, from 1667 to 1798; it was then transferred to the ’s Lands Zeenmagazijn until some time after 1818, and then to the Ministry of the Navy in The Hague. The frame is decorated with various types of weaponry which refer to De Ruyter’s naval career: cannon, charging ladles, kegs of gunpowder, chains, shields, muskets, ropes, and a small anchor, known as a kedge. At the top of the frame is his coat of arms, surmounted by a crest in the form of a horseman (in Dutch, ‘ruyter’ means ‘rider’).

Ferdinand Bol Engel de Ruyter 1669 Mauritshuis sm

Ferdinand Bol, Portrait of Engel de Ruyter, 1669, Mauritshuis

This is probably the portrait which was recorded in a 1683 inventory of the sitter’s house in Amsterdam. The objects carved on the frame are of the same type as those on the frame on the portrait of his father, Michiel de Ruyter, above. They include horse pistols, trumpets, a dagger and a globe. The family coat of arms is topped by a crown, possibly referring to the title of baron, which Engel was given by the Spanish king in 1678; behind the shield are crossed palm leaves, and next to it branches of oak and laurel.

Jan Mijtens Wolfert van Brederode c1663 Mauritshuis sm

Jan Mijtens, Portrait of Wolfert van Brederode, c.1663, Mauritshuis

The trophies on this frame are of weapons used mainly by the cavalry, referring to Wolfert’s position as Master of Horse (at this point, he would have been about fourteen years old). The upper rail of the frame is capped by the coat of arms of the Van Brederode family, surmounted by the crest, a gryphon, the head and tail of which had been broken off, and have now been reconstructed. The lower rail features a hand holding a mace, like the one held by the sitter in the painting. Below it is an inscription, reading ‘AGERE AUT PATI FORTIORA’, or, in other words, ‘Take action, or undergo worse events’, characteristic of the Van Brederode family. The inscriptions on the side rails of the frame are similarly expressive: ‘ETSI MORTUUS URIT’ (‘Although dead, he burns…’), and ‘ANTES MUERTO QUE MURDADO’ (‘Rather dead than changed’).

Technical research

Material and technical research was carried out in collaboration with the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, or RCE) in order to gain a better understanding of the original finish of the three frames.

X ray of Engel de Ruyter frame

X-ray of the frame for the portrait of Engel de Ruyter, showing the construction of the corner joint

The frames turned out to be made of limewood; X-raying them provided insight into their construction and current condition, including the extent of woodworm damage, losses, previous restorations and the composition of the finish applied to the original gilding.

Decorative pattern Engel de Ruyter frame

Frame of Ferdinand Bol, Engel de Ruyter: painted detail of a pouch

This revealed a rare decorative pattern on the frames of both Engel de Ruyter and Wolfert van Brederode: an unusual technique, achieved by the use of various metal powders. Examination of cross-sections from the finish applied to these frames made it possible to see each successive layer that had been added over the years. The original composition of the gilding on the frames of Michiel and Engel de Ruyter proved to be very similar. In both cases a thick, transparent layer of glue was applied directly to the limewood, followed by a thin layer of ochre-coloured paint and finally the gold leaf. In contrast, the original gilding on the frame of Wolfert van Brederode’s portrait was applied over layers of a more frequently-occurring chalk and glue ground.

Coat of arms of Engel de Ruyter Frame of Ferdinand Bol, Engel de Ruyter: the coat of arms, before conservation

Another important finding was that the family arms on the frame of Engel de Ruyter’s portrait were originally gilded: the red and blue areas are later additions. For this reason it was decided to apply a new, reversible layer of gilding to the coloured areas.

Treatment

The conservation treatment of the three frames consisted primarily of conserving the extant layers of finish. The loose elements of the gilding and ground layers were secured, and several areas exhibiting woodworm damage were consolidated, after which the frames were cleaned.

Michiel de Ruyter Detail beforeFrame of Ferdinand Bol, Michiel de Ruyter: detail of finish before conservation

All of the surface dirt, spots of bronze paint, discoloured retouches and other disturbing elements were removed; for example, the frame of Michiel de Ruyter’s portrait had an unnatural-looking black patina, which had been applied at some point – before the painting was acquired in 1894 – to make the new gilding look ‘antique’.

Michiel de Ruyter Detail after Frame of Ferdinand Bol, Michiel de Ruyter: detail of finish after conservation

The metal plates recording the name and date were moved to the back of the frame, lacunae and tears were repaired, and missing parts in the woodcarving were filled in. In addition, the structure of the frame around Michiel de Ruyter’s portrait was strengthened by fitting metal brackets to the back corners.

Restoration of the trophies and other items

Anna Stringer carving 2Anna Stringer working on the frame of Michiel de Ruyter

Missing parts were also reconstructed in order to restore the original appearance of the frames. The woodcarver Anna Stringer took this on, making use of old photographs and reproductions collected during research into their history.

Wolfert van Brederode helmet before

Frame of Jan Mijtens, Wolfert van Brederode, detail of helmet crest before conservation

For example, the coat of arms on the frame of Wolfert van Brederode’s portrait had a crest in the form of a gryphon, the head and tail of which had been broken off.

Anna Stringer carving 1

Embryonic forms of the gryphon’s head and tail

Eighteenth century depictions of the family arms provided the basis for the design of these missing parts, and Anna translated this into three dimensions. First of all, a piece of balsa wood was glued to the surface of the fracture, to create an even ground on which to attach the rest of the material from which the head and tail of the gryphon would be carved. Small blocks of limewood were then glued to this base.

Anna Stringer carving 3 The gryphon’s head and tail, fully carved

When they were firmly in place, the forms of the missing pieces were carved in a style which would marry with the remainder.

Wolfert van Brederode helmet after Frame of Jan Mijtens, Wolfert van Brederode, detail of helmet crest after conservation

 Figure before & after

 The rider surmounting the frame of Michiel de Ruyter’s portrait, before and after conservation

The sword held by the rider on the crest of Michiel de Ruyter’s portrait was reconstructed on the basis of historical photographs, allowing the missing sword to be added. Comparable frames from other collections were also examined, to determine the original appearance of certain elements. At the lower left of Engel de Ruyter’s frame, for example, a small piece of the drum was missing: the piece which served to attached the stretched snare (catgut string). It was possible to reconstruct this detail by studying an original trophy frame in the Zeeuws Musuem in Middelburg, on which the part in question is still intact.

Mauritshuis trophy frames hang

After conservation treatment, the three trophy frames are more harmonious in character and closer to their original appearance, and together they produce a more unified effect. The project, which will be completed this year, has yielded much information about the production of these frames. When the Mauritshuis reopened its doors to the public this summer (2014), the three trophy frames were back in pride of place in the Staircase Gallery.

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With grateful thanks to Anne Lenders, Assistant Curator of the Mauritshuis Collections Department, for her article and for permission to republish it, and to Gini Kingma for orchestrating the process.

See Mauritshuis frames: Part I> here

Ferdinand Bol & Willem van de Velde Michiel de Ruyter CREST [1] Michiel Jonker, ‘Framing in the Golden Age: Picture and frame in 17th century Holland by Pieter J.J. van Thiel; C.J. de Bruyn Kops’, Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, vol.24, no.4, 1996, pp. 357-60.