Ex Uno Omnia

Ex Uno Omnia
Everything Out of One

A Student Engagement Project at the Ashmolean Museum, 2014
Grinling Gibbons, after Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt
oil on canvas, (circa 1690); NPG 2925
© National Portrait Gallery, London

For the first time since it was carved in the late 17th century, Elias Ashmole’s portrait frame is displayed in our Ark To Ashmolean Gallery as an object in its own right. The frame has undergone a lengthy restoration in the Ashmolean Museum’s Conservation department, and has been cleaned of its later gilding and lead paint to reveal the detailed craftsmanship of master carver Grinling Gibbons (1648–1721). It will be reunited with the portrait after the end of the summer 2014 display.

The conservation process provided an opportunity for six Oxford postgraduates to reflect upon the frame as an anchor for a variety of perspectives. Ashmole’s motto, Ex Uno Omnia (‘everything out of one’), has been extended to become this project’s motto as well, as it has prompted us to discover different layers of meaning present in one object, as if peeling off layers of paint.

This rich and complex frame suggests to us, for example, the increase in public and academic interest in botany at this time. Merchants, soldiers, scientists, and physicians travelled to Asia, Africa, and the Americas, returning to England with a variety of medicinal, fibre, and craft plants, some of which we see included in the Gibbons frame. With his knowledge of alchemy and the natural sciences, Ashmole was also interested in the way the celestial world might influence the characteristics of specific plants. Meanwhile Gibbons’ Dutch origins invite a comparison between his floral carvings and Dutch still-life painting, examples of which can be seen in the Ashmolean.

Follow the links below to explore our perspectives on the frame.


With Elias Ashmole’s motto in mind, we encourage you to generate your own thoughts about the Gibbons frame, and its place within the ‘Ark to Ashmolean’ Gallery.

Follow this link to find out more about student and University engagement at the Ashmolean Museum.