A FRAME FOR ITS OWN SAKE

The Metropolitan Museum, New York, has an outstanding collection of frames - Renaissance ones, in particular, as shown in an exhibition this year. This example is an early 17th-century frame from North Italy. Of carved and gilded wood, with a frieze painted to look like polished walnut, it sports scrolls which weave enchantingly in and out of the frieze and over the outer molding of ``pearls.'' This frame manages to balance ornateness with a certain bold simplicity.

Very little is known about the history of such frames, and their survival is fortuitous because frames were frequently discarded, like fashionable garments, to be replaced by the latest design, whether they were appropriate to the paintings inside them or not. Frames like this were not valued or collected until the late 19th century.

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