In the 15th- and 16th-century southern Netherlands the support of a painting was a work of joinery presented in its finished stage to the artist. From some time before 1520, artists began painting on panels outside the frame for improved efficiency, but throughout the 16th century, many panels were still painted in the frame. The evolution towards independent frames, where the decorative function becomes more important than the construction, is linked to the increasing popularity in the 17th century of canvas, a lighter support requiring less solid framing. The objectives of the French edition (1989) were to describe the supports in order to ensure their conservation, and contribute to the dialogue between art historians and restorers. This second augmented edition has a wider ambition: to describe how the joinery was devised in symbiosis with the painter’s narrative and to analyse in depth a selection of masters and masterpieces.
Many articulated works unfold their story beginning with the wings closed and ending with them wide open. The dynamics of a work are at once material and spiritual. Today, many precious paintings are dismembered, with their frames in ruins. They are pale reflections of what they were, comprehendible only by theoretical reconstructions of their lost refinement: the reversible diptych that hides a second, objects with multiple openings revealing successive contents, an altarpiece with a transformation mechanism, now lost, of which the wheels embedded in the frames are the only clues to its erstwhile operation.