4.13 Panel Makers’ Marks and Frames
The 1617 regulations of the Antwerp panel makers states that members should contact the dean or keurmeester in order to have their panels for painters assessed and, if accepted, subsequently issued with the Antwerp coat of arms: two hands above a castle .1 If, however, flaws in the wood were observed, it was the duty of the deans to break the faulty panel, although there are numerous examples of approved panels that had one or more of faults.2 Before approval and branding of the panels, the panel maker was obliged to stamp his personal mark – a monogram or house-mark – into the wood of the panel.
In the Winter Room, however, only two panels display the branded mark from the Antwerp panel makers’ guild on the reverse. They are Peter Snayers’ Cavalry battle with assault on a convoy , which also displays a clover leaf, the individual house-mark belonging to the panel maker’s dean, Michiel Claessens . His clover leaf has been recorded on six other panels in the Winter Room4 as well as on numerous panels in European collections, which were all produced in his workshop in the house called Het Gouden Klaverblad in the Korte Gasthuisstraat in Antwerp, between 1590 and his death in 1637. The design of the Antwerp brand on the battle scene could be established to date from 1618-1626, dates that determine the period of production of this panel.
Antwerp mark and house mark
Clover leaf (individual house-mark of Michiel Claessens)
Cavalry battle with assault on a convoy, c. 1617-1620
panel (oak), oil paint 51,5 x 66 cm
Copenhagen, The Royal Danish Collection - Rosenborg Castle
The other painting showing both a personal mark and the Antwerp brand is Winter landscape with skaters and sledges , painted in the manner of Salomon van Ruysdael (1600/1603-1670), on stylistic grounds to be dated around 1650. The personal mark consists of a six-pointed star and is used by a still unidentified Antwerp panel maker active between 1619-1650 . Comparative examination of the design of the Antwerp brand with those on other panels also indicates with all clarity that the Winter landscape is produced considerably later than the other paintings in the Winter Room, rather around or after 1650.4 This implies that this painting, as Gerson also noted, cannot have been part of the Winter Room when it was completed in 1620 but must be a later substitute for a lost (?) panel.5
Apart from the cases above, another five panel makers’ monograms have been recorded on 57 panels, some just on one or two panels, others on up to 13 panels. However, having 1617 as a very convenient terminus post quem for marking panels did not prove completely accurate.6 The marking of panels was at least started by a number of individuals already in 1612,7 and recent investigations point to the possibility of extending backwards the dating of an enigmatic mark by a panel maker issuing a written mark in the form of a monogram like ‘GA’ (interlinked). His mark has been recorded on several panels by Jan Brueghel I and his circle from 1598.8
In the context of the Winter Room this is important, as the most frequently recorded mark in this ensemble is showing precisely this ‘GA’ monogram . The maker can possibly be identified with Guilliam Aertssen (active 1612-after 1626), a panel maker whose name was also registered in 1617, although his monogram was there written differently. In the Winter Room the ‘GA’ monogram is recorded on eight of the 13 panels painted by the Rosenborg Master of the Hunting Scenes. Additionally his monogram is recorded on the reverse of three paintings by Louis de Caullery and two paintings by Joos de Momper and Jan Brueghel I in collaboration. However, quite uniquely, also 14 frames in the Winter Room bear his monogram.
Most paintings in the Winter Room have three frames: the innermost frame is gilded, with a painted black decorative pattern; the second outer frame is painted black and this too, is embellished, but with gilded designs. Outside these two frames is a third made of plain, profiled oak which keeps the other two, and the painting, in place in the oak panelling. The first two were mounted in Antwerp, and the last one in Copenhagen.
As with panels, frames would also have been made in standard sizes to fit standard panels. For instance, the inventory made after the death of the widow of the panel and frame maker Hans van Haecht (1557–1621) lists 36 eight-stuijvers-size double frames in a storage room, and 68 more of the same size in the attic along with two-dozen small ebony frames.9 In Antwerp, picture frames were sometimes made of a combination of oak and beech wood, although according to the guild rules only the inner frame was allowed to be of beech.10 While original frames from the early 17th century are rare, in the Winter Room more than 50 decorated double oak and beech frames from around 1620 are still preserved. Some of the painted panels would be held tight by means of tiny wooden wedges, sometimes secured by glue, placed at regular intervals on the back. Most frames would have a rebate for mounting the panel with hand-forged iron nails. This aided framing, as well as the frame itself, could be assembled before fitting in the panel .11
In short, the panel maker with the monogram ‘GA’ produced and marked 13 panels with his red chalk monogram and he also monogrammed up to 14 frames produced for the paintings to be mounted in the Winter Room. It is the presence of these many written monograms on both panels and frames in the Winter Room ensemble that indicate two important things: first, that the paintings and the frames were created during the transition period between the innovative or voluntarily marking of panels and the situation of the guild regulation of November 1617; and secondly, that the ensemble was delivered on demand to fit the Winter Room.
When Willum Moor and later Hans Jørgen Dill redecorated the Winter Room in the years between 1615 and 1620 in order to give it its present appearance, they must have expected the arrival of the 75 Antwerp paintings. Could they, however, have encountered to its full extend the size of the frames that each painting would be having upon arrival? We shall never know this for sure. However, studying the wainscoting of the Winter Room, in which all the framed paintings were to be inserted, we notice that it has undergone serious adjustments in order to accommodate the framed paintings arriving from Antwerp.
While several panel makers simultaneously were engaged in the manufacture of the panels for a variety of painters’ workshops, it has become clear that one panel maker, possibly Guilliam Aertssen, framed most of them. After all, his personal mark ‘GA’ has been recorded on at least 13 out of 57 frames, and often the panel was made and marked by one of his competing panel makers in Antwerp. It is therefore conceivable that he is the one that was commissioned to supply all the beautifully framed panel paintings to be delivered to Christian IV’s Winter Room at Rosenborg Castle.
manner of Salomon van Ruysdael
Winter landscape with skaters and sledges on the ice, c. 1640
panel (oak), oil paint 51 x 63 cm
on the back : zespuntige ster
Copenhagen, The Royal Danish Collection - Rosenborg Castle
Personal mark with six-poined star
Detail of the reverse of an original double frame from one of the Winter Room paintings. In the circle is a fragment of the monogram by the panel and frame maker ‘GA’ written in red chalk.
The back of a framed panel from the Winter Room, photographed in ultraviolet (UV) light in order to accentuate two inscriptions otherwise almost invisible: On the upper plank ‘No68’ has been written, and below the horizontal join between the two planks composing the panel the ‘GA’ monogram has been written. Both inscriptions are done by the panel maker with read chalk and almost invisible in natural light.
1 Van Damme 1990.
2 Dubois/Fraiture 2009.
3 M. Claessens clover leaf was recorded on the reverse of N3, W25, W27, E12, E14, and E23.
4 Wadum 1988, p. 188, fig. 18a-b.
5 See Gerson, § 2.2.
6 Wadum 1993.
7 Broos/Wadum 1993.
8 I am grateful to Maite Jover (Prado Museum, Madrid) for sharing this information and showing me the panel. Uta Neidhardt (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden) informed me that she recorded similar cases in their collection as well as in collections in Munich.
9 Van Roey 1968; Duverger 1987.
10 Van Damme 1990.
11 Verougstraete-Marcq 1989.