A FRAME CARVED BY A GENIUS

It encircles, like a garland, a painting of King James II by John Riley. The frame unquestionably upstages the painting. Grinling Gibbons, who made this frame, was a consummate woodcarver, specializing in decorative, exuberant but crisp carvings of fruit, leaves, flowers, animals, and cherubs' heads. A contemporary of this English sculptor (Gibbons was born of an English father in Rotterdam in 1648, and worked in England from before 1668) thought his details were so realistic that ``each leaf is capable of rustling at the passage of a carriage.''

In this frame from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the oval space for the picture is described with a wonderfully contrived naturalness by the fluency of the carving. It is not just a decoration around a shape.

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