Old Masters


Islamic Spanish

At Bourlet our Italian fine art frames are in the highest demand. And they have the most wonderful names. The Sansovino – an elaborate, early baroque form named for the architect and sculptor Jacopo Sansovino (1486 – 1570). The English version is called the Sunderland frame; large numbers of them encase Charles Spencer’s ancestors at Althorp House. The Carlo or Salvatore Rosa, routinely used by aristocrats to frame their Grand Tour pictures. The Florentine, often chosen by our clients for grand mirrors, or the Bolognese, an ornate profile perfect for Victorian portraits.

And of course, the Cassetta; we create around thirty different such frames, varying from 1” to 6” in width. With its lap joints and decorative corner stencils, a Cassetta looks exquisite on a Chagall and becomes the default choice for a Craigie Aitcheson. All Italian Old Master frames incline to be lyrical and voluptuous, and so use a softer gesso than the crisper French styles which require sharper definition.


Bourlet has collected original Italian frames for decades to explore their design and construction. To recreate their qualities, we use original techniques. One obsession is to employ extensive pre-carving before we apply any gesso. Florentine craftsmen planed the frame by hand to avoid a rigid appearance, so we get out our chisels to make outside edges gentler, even wobblier. This might take an extra three hours but it pays. For the most authentic frame, we make dovetail wedges by hand to reinforce the mitres: for a client with a limited budget, we will mimic the lap joint by carving a tiny line at each corner through the gesso.

We make the gesso in exactly the same way it was made in the 14th century. Natural clays are used under the gold before dust and delicate, water-based patinas are applied. And when you look closely at an old master frame, you will see it is slightly more worn along its bottom edge, where dust collects. So we imitate that too.



Every year, we know we will reframe significant paintings for collectors and galleries alike, exchanging Spanish for Italian and back again as the pendulum of taste swings. Ultimately, the best decisions always come from looking at the work itself, allowing the painting to breathe.

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