Conservation of Thomas Sackville’s picture frame

The portrait of Thomas Sackville hanging in the Great Hall attributed to John de Critz dates to about 1601. Last week a frame conservator from Tankerdale* came to do some consolidation work to the frame before going on loan to the National Portrait Gallery as a part of their upcoming ‘Double Take’ exhibition.

Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset

Siobhan and Dan (Tankerdale conservator) carry Thomas Sackville to the Ballroom where a workspace was created.

Here are some notes from the condition report carried out by Dan, the conservator, on the history of the frame and its condition before treatment, and the treatment process carried out.

Object description:   The elaborate frame is unique and perhaps belongs to the 1620s; it has been altered at the corners to fit the picture. Unusually for such an intricately carved English frame of this date, it is in pine rather than oak. In style the paired scrolls at the centres owe something to the Sansovino style in framing, popular in Venice, but there are other influences at work, still to understand. As originally finished the elaborate carvings would have been brightly gilt, standing out against a blue background. Much of the gilding is now obscured by bronze overpaint which also hides all but a few traces of the blue paintwork. We shall see other early frames with rather similar paired scrolls, some with painted backgrounds, in the Ballroom and Cartoon Gallery.

Condition assessment
Structure: Mitre corners have opened slightly, but are stable.  Otherwise sound.

The split is where the mitre joint is opening up.

Surface: Gold and blue original surface can be seen in a few places, although it is mostly obscured by a later brown paint and bronze powder scheme.

The different layers of decoration

Treatment process:

Hot rabbit skin glue was applied to the surface of the frame (9 parts deionised water : 1 part granules), and the softened curling/flaking decoration was gently eased back into place, to adhere to the substrate.  Excess rabbit skin glue was cleaned off the surface with warm water.

The painted panel was removed from the frame, and conservation grade felt was inserted into the rebate before the painted panel was refitted into the frame.  8 new brass plates were applied to the back of the frame to secure the painted panel.

The flaking areas of decoration have now been consolidated with rabbit skin glue

No losses to the frame decoration were filled or re-touched on this occasion, the primary reason for conservation was to make the frame safe for exhibition.  Further work on the frame will need discussion on how the conserved appearance of the frame should look.

Sarah, Melinda, Emily and Lucy

*  You can find out more about Tankerdale via their website:


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