Framing Rembrandt's Century
Consisting of approximately 250 artworks, Rembrandt’s Century presents a diverse picture of the art and personalities that defined the Dutch Golden Age. Drawn entirely from the Museums’ permanent collection of works on paper in the renowned Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, this exhibition required months of preparation. Curators, conservators, and art technicians worked together to frame—both literally and figuratively—this important selection of masterworks.
Framing and matting is a huge component of the planning and installation of an exhibition of works on paper. We recently sat down with senior museum technicians Mark Garrett and Don Larsen to discuss the extensive work that went into framing and displaying Rembrandt’s Century.
Due to space constraints, works on paper are often stored “naked” and require new mats and frames before they can go on view.
Even if an artwork is framed for an exhibition, it will likely be extracted from its display frame when it is returned to storage at the close of a show.
Determining the needs of an artwork for display begins with an examination by the conservator and the framer to ascertain if the mat board has discolored over time or if the mat’s thickness is in keeping with the current exhibition design. Next, the artwork is measured to determine if there is a standard-sized frame in the Museums’ inventory that will fit appropriately.
Old master prints are often extremely small and can appear less significant when contained in a frame that is too large. Efficient and creative matting mitigates this effect, as can be seen in this grouping that displays 12 separate works in one frame.
Creating a mat consisting of multiple frames is extremely complex because measurements have to be measured and cut on the back of the mat board. In other words, framer Mark Garrett has to measure in reverse.
Certain artworks require customized frames to complement the image. Such was the case with Rembrandt’s Christ Crucified Between Two Thieves (The Three Crosses).
Although this frame came with the standard gold finish used throughout the exhibition, it was modified at the suggestion of Brian Isobe, an independent framing contractor. Isobe proposed that a black line be painted in the interior of the frame’s gold border to better emphasize the image’s dramatic use of black.
Once a proper frame is selected for each piece, the display spacing must be worked out in the galleries. Presenting a balanced exhibition environment requires more than simply positioning the framed artworks equidistant from each other. Larsen, the exhibition’s lead installation tech, explained how the spacing must respond to the exhibition architecture.
As you can see, although these groupings all appear on the same wall, they are not equally spaced so as to better articulate the exhibition’s design.
Taking place over a six-month period, the preparations for Rembrandt’s Century included the fabrication of 25 new frames and new mats for 75% of the works in the exhibition. When visiting the exhibition, the artwork will undoubtedly shine—but we also encourage you to take a closer look at the frames.
Rembrandt’s Century is currently on view in tandem with Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis.