Many early modern European works of art are not singular images but a combination of images with figurative marginalia, borders or frames. In general, art historical research addressing marginal imagery has typically focused on their (superfluous) ornamental character and the service that they render in situating artworks in time and place. However, this narrow appreciation has confined marginal imagery to the realm of style and taste and has obstructed inquiries into its influence on interpretation and reception. Only in more recent years, it has been considered in connection to emotion, perception and meaning. Especially the relationship to rhetoric and theology has received attention in various studies. Yet, marginal imagery as a structural part of the image – as a whole – in the sixteenth-century remains under-addressed. This is despite the fact that this time period is generally described as an age of transition for the visual arts, an age that saw the rise of innovative iconography through experimentation with new combinations, styles and genres. In addition, to date no study has explicitly confronted marginal imagery with contemporary theories and debates on art and knowledge or dialectics, the first and foremost line of reasoning in that era.
The present research project sets out to asses to what extend marginal imagery in the sixteenth century was considered to function as a strategic device, fully connected to the meaning and functioning of artworks. The project is constituted of three case studies. They allow to study in depth the specific ways in which visual and intellectual culture intersect in sixteenth-century framed artworks, and to explore the respective roles of the artist, art patron and art collectors therein. The three case studies are:
1. The painted architectural frames of Lancelot Blondeel
2. The borders of the "Story of Noah"-tapestries commissioned by Philip II
3. The collection frames of Joris Hoefnagel's drawing collection