Due to its geographical position and rich natural resources, Trapani, on the coast of Sicily, was a leading centre in coral crafts. In 1628 the guild of the coral-workers, known in Italian as Arte dei Corallari, was established in Trapani and later spread to other Mediterranean centres. Coral was considered a very precious and rare commodity due to how difficulty it was to extract. It was esteemed both for its colour and unusual texture, and it was believed to have the power to ward off the evil. Coral was originally used as entire ‘coral trees’, usually mounted on a base. However, from the late sixteenth onwards sections of coral were used separately as decorative elements on works of art, as seen in this frame.
The frame stands out for its geometrical structure and highly elaborate decoration. Its rigid octagonal shape is softened by the outer, lobed decorations adorned with stylised leaves and inlaid coral flower heads, which are contrasted with white mother-of-pearl ornamentation. This is applied to the gilded copper and embossed silver foil support using pins and metal stitching, and it is now mounted as a mirror. The frame reworks a type of frame widely used in Trapani throughout the seventeenth century, known as a ‘merletto’. However, the present piece has a more animated fabric, in which the traditional red-gold two-tone is enriched by a more variegated contrast of different colours and materials. These characteristics suggest that this frame dates from the first quarter of the eighteenth century.