Reframing Rembrandt’s wife


It’s not every day that early career carvers have the opportunity to design a magnificent wooden frame to house a Dutch Old Master, and then after expertly carving and gilding it, know that their work will hang in pride of place with the revered painting for perpetuity. But this is exactly what MA student Borys Burrough has been able to achieve during his postgraduate Carving course at the Art School.

Through the Art School’s strong industry links and professional networks, our Historic Carving students gain access to a variety of high profile live projects and commissions, invaluable in developing professional practice. Borys is currently completing a commission he successfully won through the Art School, to research, design, carve and gild wooden frames for two Dutch Old Master paintings for a private collector in America. The first painting to be reframed is ‘Saskia Holding a Carnation‘ thought to be by Rembrandt, formerly on display at the Rembrandthuis Museum in Amsterdam, and the second is ‘Cobbler in his Workshop‘ by Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraeten.

The briefs for both frames specified their design should be based on the 17th century Dutch Auricular style. In the brief for the ‘Saskia’ frame, the owner asked that the design reference the 17th century etching ‘Modelli Artificiosi‘, as well as silver objects from the Van Vianen family. In addition, he wanted the frame’s unique design to also reflect the grotesque style as well as the vanitas and memento mori tradition.

The 17th century etching ‘Modelli Artificiosi’ referenced in Borys’ frame design, and Borys’ drawing

After thoroughly researching the design references detailed in the brief and meticulously drawing and developing the frame’s design scheme, Borys transcribed the drawing to a full size clay model of the frame, set on a wire mesh backing. Using the clay model as a design guide, he has precisely carved the ornate frame in pine, a soft wood ideal for detailed carving.

The new frame design set around ‘Saskia Holding a Carnation’ and the clay model

The four main lengths of the frame were roughly carved in Borys’ Art School studio, and along with the clay model, were moved to Borys’ home studio during Lockdown, where he continued work on the piece. The carving is now completed and Borys has water gilded the frame with gold, burnishing it to give a brilliant lustre.

The magnificent ‘Saskia’ frame, almost finished

Meanwhile, Borys continues work on the frame for the ‘Cobbler in his Workshop’, which will be completed later this month. The design for this smaller frame is a rescaled version of the border design from the etching of silver smith Johannes Lutma’s design for a Ewer.

Johannes Lutma’s design for a Ewer etching and Borys’ drawing

After discussing the best material to carve the frame in, Borys and his client agreed to use American walnut, a dark walnut hardwood with an even grain and beautiful figuring. Frames carved in American walnut work well with or without gilding but Borys will oil gild certain details of the frame, a historic technique used in the 17th century for both frames and furniture.

Borys carving the frame for ‘Cobbler in his Workshop’

The beautiful ‘Cobbler in his Workshop’ frame before gilding

Both finished frames will be exhibited in the Degree Show, planned to take place at the Art School in August 2021. Sign up to our mailing list to receive an invite.

Commenting on the frame commission, Borys said: ‘Having had 10 years’ experience working in the antique frame trade, restoring, gilding and now carving frames, this really is a dream commission only made possible by studying at the Art School. This commission exemplifies the great access to live projects that the course can provide. The experience I have gained from this project will no doubt be invaluable in my career progression as a woodcarver.

Borys specialised in frame design and carving during his BA (Hons) Historic Carving: Woodcarving & Gilding, which he completed in 2018. For his final year project, he designed, carved and gilded a frame, again based on the 17th century Auricular style, for a rediscovered Van Dyck portrait of Olivia Boteler Porter, in the possession of the Bowes Museum, near Durham – another example of a live commission arranged through the Art School.

The frame for the Van Dyck portrait, now hung in the Bowes Museum, Durham

Borys’ outstanding design, carving and gilding skills, combined with his deep knowledge and passion for historic frames, have led to a pair of exquisitely carved, bespoke wooden frames that will surround two highly-regarded Dutch Old Masters for many years to come. We are extremely proud of Borys’ achievements and can’t wait to see the finished frames exhibited at the Degree Show in the summer.



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