Posted 16th March 2018
Paolo and Francesca – The Painting and the Frame
I'm learning all the time as a volunteer on duty at Watts Gallery - Artists' Village. When you're next in the Gallery, I recommend taking a moment to look at the frames as well as the paintings. You will notice that George Frederic Watts definitely had a preferred style for framing the majority of his work. Indeed, it became known as the Watts frame. There are many examples in the Gallery. However, there is one frame that is definitely not a typical Watts frame and that is the frame which surrounds the painting of Paolo and Francesca. This frame is heavy, gilded and highly ornate in the Baroque style, probably originating in Italy and thought to predate the painting.
The painting of Paolo and Francesca is about a love story. Francesca da Rimini was unhappily married to Giovanni Malatesta and fell in love with her husband's younger brother, Paolo. The couple had an affair which lasted ten years until Giovanni found out and killed them both. The tragic story of the adulterous lovers is recounted in Dante's famous poem, Divine Comedy. As punishment, Paolo and Francesca are banished to float forever in an eternal wind within the second circle of hell.
If a good frame almost disappears, then the frame which surrounds Paolo and Francesca does not. If a frame's job is to show off the painting and not itself, then the frame which surrounds Paolo and Francesca does not. This frame is loud, dominant and full of movement. Elaborate decorative swirls in its design interlock to create a seemingly impenetrable web around the couple who float within suspended in each other's arms. The frame reinforces the dilemma of the couple's banishment and locks Paolo and Francesca into their hellish world. This frame is an inherent part of the work.
So, here's the question. What would happen if the painting of Paolo and Francesca was ever removed from its frame? Would Paolo and Francesca be finally released from their eternal punishment or would the couple only be partially freed and subsequently float forever around the Gallery? Either way, it would be very interesting to find out!
See you in the Gallery!
Volunteer at Watts Gallery Artists' Village