Ex Uno Omnia
‘Everything Out of One’
A Student Engagement Project at the Ashmolean Museum, 2014
The Art of Stripping
The renovation of the frame included a cleaning of its top layer of gilding. The frame has been stripped of layers of materials now considered unfortunate additions. No longer concealed by the gold leaf, the masterful carvings of Grinling Gibbons can be appreciated in their full splendor. Ironically, by losing what appears to have been its most valuable material layer (the gold), the frame has actually come to be ‘worth’ more. Stripped bare of ornamentation, its aura of authenticity has been restored. This is not simply a question of a shift in taste; it is a far more radical – deeply rooted – statement around the source of the art object’s value.
Frame of Reference: Elias Ashmole’s Gesamtkunstwerk
A seventeenth-century gentleman in a “teapot” pose stands against a dark background. Around it a limewood carved frame presents two-dimensional fruit and a coat of arms. ‘Ex Uno Omnia’ it reads – everything out of one. The ‘one’ of this ensemble is Elias Ashmole himself. The pose in the portrait mirrors that seen in images of his patron, King Charles II – a telling appropriation from a regal portrait painted by the same artist, John Riley. The fruits on the frame may be influenced by manuscript volumes such as Tradescant’s Orchard. Two separable objects, one inherent idea: together they comprise Ashmole’s Gesamtkunstwerk, or total artwork. The artwork that is him – present social class and past historic roots intertwined in an image made for future remembrance. Within the Gesamtkunstwerk the notion of context is auto-generated, stemming from each of the parts into a single whole; self-contained, obviating the need for extraneous references; and ever-present, visually granting itself to the viewer. Ashmole’s Gesamtkunstwerk is a frame of reference to himself.
Framing Limits: Grinling Gibbons as an Architect of Space
‘Space for an architect does not exist, so we design the limits that give the impression of space’
Eduardo Souto de Moura.
A frame is a structure that surrounds something. Be it palpable, like a wooden carved object that mounts a painting, or abstract, like the institute that houses it as an artwork, the frame is a participant in the process of setting limits. It designs and designates spaces. Grinling Gibbons, therefore, is not merely a carver, a wood-sculptor, a material artist; Grinling Gibbons is an architect, an architect of perception – an architect of space. With masterful dexterity Gibbons’ chisel transforms the light limewood into plums and Turk Cap Lilies, while creating a space ex novo – a void which is now demarcated by the frame that encloses it. Within that space, representation may take place even when the void is maintained as such. As José Ortega y Gasset suggested, the frame’s desire to contain results in the ineluctable transformation of whatever falls inside it into an object of curiosity.
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