Ex Uno Omnia
Everything Out of One

A Student Engagement Project at the Ashmolean Museum, 2014

Lauren Kaufman


This frame is comprised of motifs reflecting Ashmole’s scholarly interests, surmounted by Ashmole’s arms and his motto, EX UNO OMNIA. This motto was used in alchemical circles to refer to the pursuit of perfection in nature and in man. Through worked natural material, this frame systemizes the fantastic – allowing through the contrivances of art, for sensations wrought by novel, elegant, and rare objects. These objects, neatly overlapping across the frame’s bounds, reveal Ashmole’s self-fashioning. Neither purely marginal nor ornamental, the frame is a signifier of Ashmole’s desire to inscribe symbols of distinction into his own mythology.

The Autonomy of the Frame

The Gibbons frame attests to the possibility of the frame being internal to the image –possessing the same potential for vitality and memorialisation as the portrait itself. Whilst the museum can give new agency to the frame, or object, by separating it from its paired portrait, or subject, both the frame and portrait are inextricably tied, linked by the painted subject’s desire to visually evidence his legacy as a learned man. This desire is not limited to Ashmole, but rather, is a byproduct of the period to which Ashmole belongs. So too, the museum itself, a crucial development of early modernity, is characterised by an impulse that privileges images that invoke desire. Looking at the frame with this in mind unfurls an assumed alliance between subject and object, and between stillness and dynamism.

The Conquest of the World as Picture

The development of the museum is a particularly modern event. Within the museum, representations, or representational art more specifically, found a world by grounding objects within a schematic whole. This accords with Martin Heidegger’s famed claim in The Age of the World Picture, that “the fundamental event of the modern age is the conquest of the world as picture.” By organising objects in such a way, museums, and the artworks contained therein, reveal certain symbols and beliefs. In this particular frame that surrounds a portrait of Ashmole, one finds signs that suggest the fullness of Ashmole’s life. The pictured objects on the frame - orchard fruits, a variety of wild flowers, and a few foreign plants - suggest Ashmole to be a learned man of fine taste and travel experience.