Is it necessary to put a frame or a border around a painting? If you wander around art galleries of Old Masters or stately homes all the paintings seem to be lovingly framed, which suggests that they used to think so at least. In contrast, if you go around any museum of modern art you will see oil paintings hanging on the wall without any frame at all. It seems to look neater and tidier to have a frame but that probably isn’t sufficient reason to say that it ought to be framed? Is it? Is there any other justification?
When I went to icon painting classes from Orthodox teachers, I was always asked to put a border around the image of the icon I was studying. I was told that this served the purpose of mediating between the image, which portrays the heavenly dimension and the natural world. The border in this case was a flat painted or gilded region raised slightly from the plane of the image. If the composition allowed for it, we designed the icon so that a figure encroached slightly into the boundary region, perhaps the sleeve, a foot or the halo. Aidan, my teacher, told me that this encroachment communicates the idea that nothing can contain God.
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