Paintings that have been composed on a round surface may be referred to as ‘tondo’ – this circular form can be found in ancient art, though it was in the renaissance that it became a fashionable style. 

TondoAbove: three tondi by various artists including Jan van Goyen, Raphael and Fra Angelico / Fra Filippo Lippi

For modern collectors, knowing how to display a tondo may be difficult, especially if the original frame has been lost. This article will look into the history of tondi and the ways our conservators can help you display circular art. 

What is a tondo artwork?

Tondo artworks are paintings completed on a circle panel or canvas. The term does not include portrait miniatures and generally only applies to larger artworks. Tondo shaped relief sculptures are alternatively called roundels.

TondoAbove: three tondi from different eras, including a 15th century work by Francesco del Cossa, an early 16th century work by Master of the Conversazione di Santo Spirito and an 18th century work by Angelica Kauffmann

In the Italian renaissance, many old masters used the form. Various tondo artworks from the period were completed by the likes of Michelangelo, Fra Angelico, Botticelli and Raphael.

Desco da parto

It is often acknowledged that the scale and shape of tondo paintings were in part inspired by desco da parto – a decorative tray that was given as a gift following the successful birth of a child. 

Desco da parto were part of an important celebration, honouring survival in an era when childbirth was extremely high risk for both mother and child. The desco da parto would have been given to the family during the mother’s lying in period (bed rest following birth) and originated from the trays used to serve refreshments to their visitors. In the 15th century, almost half of surveyed Italian homes had some form of desco da parto in their inventory. 

desco da parto traysAbove: three desco da parto trays from the 15th century

Upper class families would have had elaborately painted trays, with decoration often covering both sides. Desco da parto are usually around 50 to 60 centimetres and have themes related to birth, often in the form of classical allegory or Christian iconography. They may have also featured heraldic imagery related to the family. Eventually, desco da parto were replaced by ceramics such as maiolica charger plates. Very few are in existence today, making them a rare and valuable form of renaissance art.

Framing tondo artworks

There are two options to consider when framing round or oval paintings. The first choice is to place the artwork in a standard square frame with a bespoke mount that is cut to fit the artwork. This may be helpful if you have a wall of frames in a certain style that you would like to replicate, or have a frame in mind that simply needs to be fitted with a tondo mount. This type of mount is usually referred to as a spandrel and crafted from a gilt wooden board. Our conservators can create one to fit a frame if required – as well as restore an original to ensure historic integrity. Spandrels can be simple and flat or have three dimensional and painted embellishments.

Oval frame mount

The second option is to have a bespoke circular frame. Whilst some artworks may have their original frame available, we often find that these have been lost or damaged over time. Damaged frames can be stabilised and restored by our gilding experts, they can be revived to their original bright finish or toned down to reflect their antique appeal. If a frame is missing and a circular style is preferable, our conservators can create a bespoke style by hand. A new frame can be coloured to suit the era or your own interior design choices. Below is a frame that was hand crafted by our conservator Wiktor.

Tondo frame example

How can we help?

If you have any questions regarding the creation of a new frame or artwork restoration, our team is always happy to help. Email us via [email protected] or call 0207 112 7576

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