18th Century Silhouette Frame

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Project by ElroyD posted 06-24-2018 02:25 AM 1576 views 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

My first piece of reproduction 18th Century furniture.

Popular in Europe in the mid 1700’s, Silhouette portraits, or Shades, didn’t become popular in America until the 1780s. Between 1775 and 1778, a gentleman by the name of Johann Casper Lavater published a book in Germany on the subject of Physiognomy (defining a person’s personality based on their facial features). In that book was an engraving of a “Device for taking Silhouettes.” Lavater would use the silhouettes as part of his studies into the then science of physiognomy.

My recreated version of the Silhouette Frame uses standard framing lumber, stained, surrounding a piece of glass (actually acrylic sheet for safety since we’d be using this around the public). Built using hand tools and period joinery (With the exception of a battery powered drill since the bits for my brace need to be sharpened).

A couple of us from my re-enacting unit, Warner’s Regiment, tried the frame out at a period house (Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington, VT, circa. 1787), with decent results with my daughter as a subject. The day was overcast, so window lighting didn’t work. A well-placed lamp, however, did the trick.

-- Elroy

9 comments so far

View CFrye's profile


11329 posts in 2999 days

#1 posted 06-24-2018 02:55 AM

That is a neat piece of history! How would’ve window light been used? Wouldn’t the light have to be shining directly at the subject/frame/paper? Thanks for sharing.

-- God bless, Candy

View ElroyD's profile


134 posts in 1747 days

#2 posted 06-24-2018 03:19 AM

That is a neat piece of history! How would’ve window light been used? Wouldn’t the light have to be shining directly at the subject/frame/paper? Thanks for sharing.

- CFrye

In the house we were in, we sat the subject in a chair directly in front of one of the large double-hung windows, then placed the frame next to them, basically sandwiching the person between the window and the silhouette frame. It works in bright sunlight, but not so well on overcast days. I’m going to keep experimenting with light sources, probably using a lamp or candle with a mirror, similar to the original engraving.

-- Elroy

View Oldtool's profile


3264 posts in 3350 days

#3 posted 06-24-2018 10:23 AM

This is very interesting and informative, really nice history of the process and the silhouette frame. Nice build, thanks for posting, I enjoyed reading & viewing.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2649 posts in 1807 days

#4 posted 06-24-2018 10:47 AM

Great work and history lesson. I saw this in the photo on your blog: Moravian Workbench Build #3: All the Reasons Why,  and wondered what you were doing. Kudos!

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 4026 days

#5 posted 06-24-2018 12:08 PM

You did an outstanding job on this reproduction. Congratulations.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View woodbutcherbynight's profile


9925 posts in 3568 days

#6 posted 06-24-2018 03:24 PM

As others have mentioned, great lesson from history. A interesting project, the detail of using period specific tools adds to that as well.

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

View Hawaiilad's profile


3379 posts in 4180 days

#7 posted 06-24-2018 07:21 PM

Great build. You just never know what you will learn here on LJ’s. A bit of history is sure you help with the woodwork. Thanks for sharing

-- Larry in Hawaii,

View Richard's profile


11310 posts in 4192 days

#8 posted 06-25-2018 01:10 AM

Very Nice & Well Done Elroy!

-- Richard (Ontario, CANADA)

View JCamp's profile


1377 posts in 1710 days

#9 posted 06-25-2018 03:44 PM

I’ve never seen anything like that. Looks awesome though and great job

-- Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might

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