The cassetta frame, with its endless variations, has been used as a frame design for over 500 years. What makes this design unique? How did it originate? And did you know that this Renaissance frame design wonderfully complements modern artworks.
Cassetta frames, which are also called plate frames and box frames (the word cassetta means “small box”), were developed in Italy during the late 15th century and used especially for domestic and secular paintings. The cassetta frame design was simply an inner and outer molding separated by a central flat recessed band called frieze.
The structure of the cassetta frame evolved from its predecessor tabernacle frame, which was inspired by the architecture of tabernacles or wall niches in churches where the communion hosts were stored. Like the tabernacle frame, the cassetta frame was originally constructed as part of a panel painting. In fact, its basic form had already been present in some tabernacle frames as the surrounding inner frame. Over the course of the 15th century, the architectural elements on tabernacle frames—such as columns, pilasters, and pediments—gradually disappeared, giving rise to the cassetta frame that incorporated the same molding on all four sides.
Beginning in the early 16th century in the Veneto region, cassetta frames were constructed separately from the paintings they enclosed. This type of frame was probably the first example of a mass-produced frame style. The prototype of most 16th and 17th century Italian frames, the cassetta frame echoed older forms, such as the architectural borders of classical doors and windows, the painted margins of frescoes, and the decorative frames of illuminated manuscripts.
Inspired by contemporary altarpieces, the decoration on the moldings and frieze of cassetta frames was often characterized by a Renaissance love of ornament in endless variations. For example, the inner and outer moldings varied in width and height and were either carved or uncarved, painted or gilded. Friezes were either flat or curved, carved or embossed with pastiglia, painted or unpainted, or gilded and
decorated with punching, glazing, and sgraffito. In Italy throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, both the cassetta frame profile and decorative motifs—which included arabesques, scrollwork, and stylized flowers and foliage—displayed distinctive regional characteristics.
If you think that cassetta frames belong solely with antique frame designs and match only Old Master works, then think again. The timeless, classic style of the cassetta frame has been used consistently since the 17th century throughout Europe and later in America, and has gone on to inspire contemporary frame designs. As it happens, the cassetta flat-panel format works particularly well with contemporary art. Contemporary frames based on the cassetta format sometimes also incorporate the traditional cassetta ornament, which has been found to complement the works of artists such as Braque, Leger, and Picasso. One popular variation of the cassetta frame used today is a plain flat panel in modern burnished gold. You can view examples from our contemporary frame inventory which features frames from the 15th century through to the 19th century.
Wondering if a cassetta frame might just be the perfect match for your artwork? Lowy’s experts based in New York are here to discuss the framing solution that’s right for you. For questions or to schedule a consultation with our framing department, please contact us.