Mirror or portrait frame

c. 1630
Gilt oak
Overall: 46 1/2 x 39 x 2 in. (118.11 x 99.06 x 5.08 cm.)
Decorative Arts and Design
Wendy and Emery Reves Collection - Great Hall, Level 3
Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

General Description

The French word for crown prince is dauphin. It also means dolphin, a favorite motif used in French art whenever the throne boasted a crown prince.

In this large frame, acanthus and grape leaves, clusters of grapes, a wicker basket, and nude youths playing with dolphins are finely carved motifs. This frame was carved for a sumptuous interior in the Italiante French city of Lyons sometime in the first half of the 17th century, the classicized forms of this large frame include many from the standard repertoire of Roman decorative designs and motifs: acanthus and grape leaves, a wicker basket, nude youths playing with dolphins, bunches of grapes, and dolphins. Although dolphins appear in Italian frames of the same period, they are much more common in France, where they are associated with the crown prince, or "dauphin," a symbol of the endurance of the French monarchy. Louis XIV's eldest son was born in 1661; perhaps the dolphins allude to him. Here, the dolphins frolic with the children on the sides of the frame, and curl lovingly into the contours of a wicker basket that once may have held carved or gilt plaster flowers on wire stems. All of the forms in the frame suggest abundance, power, and pleasure.

This frame has long been associated with Lyons, the seat of the immense French textile industry and the city whose position on the Rhone linked it directly to both the Mediterranean and Paris, the administrative center of France. The frame itself is of a type called cassetta, which originated in Italy, but its persistent use of the dolphin, the particular mode of carving, and the fact that it is made of oak suggest northern origins.

Adapted from

  • Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1985), 170.
  • Dallas Museum of Art, Decorative Arts Highlights from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1995), 64.