The Art Appraisal students file through the door and discover seven framed paintings lined up like stage actors in the anterior of their brightly-lit classroom. Set on sturdy oak easels, the wide range of works is impressive, suggesting that their teacher has borrowed a parcel from a prominent collection or local museum.  Desks are dressed with seven sheets of blank paper and a sharpened pencil.  It's a surprise test!

"You have thirty minutes to examine these artworks," the teacher explains. "Employ our art reference library and take notes if you wish.  Be thorough, because when your inspection time is up, I will drape each work and ask you to express your opinions as to its artistic merit." The teacher's pearly smile and pleasant demeanor mask a mischievous cunning.  Her students have learned that when it comes to appraising art, things are not always what they seem.  These may be uninspired works. Some may be outright fakes. Signatures are compared against known examples.  Canvasbacks and wood panels are inspected for signs of oxidation and age.

Feverishly, the students jot down their sentiments until sheets are fluffed and seven easels turn into seven ghosts.

"Now," the teacher says wryly, "write a one page description relative to each of the valuable antique frames you have just inspected."

"Huh?" one of the students says.  Pencils drop to the floor like felled trees.  Confident expressions turn to mud as soundless minutes pass and not a paper is scratched.  Finally, a student raises his hand. "I never thought about looking at a painting's frame," he wines.  Heads nod in agreement.

The teacher smiles.  "Then I guess we've all learned an important lesson today!" she says.

When sheet number one is unfurled, a 13th century three-part ecclesiastical painting called a "triptych" appears.  "This is an example of first type of frame we know of," the teacher explains.  "A painted central panel flanked by two hinged panels with a major and two subsidiary subjects.  It was like a portable altar."

A sinuous curvaceous 18th century rococo frame is revealed under sheet two. "Prior to the 19th century, frames were painstakingly carved out of wood. Spanish baroque and gilded French style frames like this one comprise what many consider to be the apogee of framing craft.  Commonly, they were more costly more than the Rembrandts, Vermeers, Davids, Gainsboroughs, and Copleys they embellished."

Another sheet is pulled. "This is a "grain-painted" folk art frame," the instructor says, unveiling frame three, "typical of those used to surround portraits painted by itinerant artists."

The teacher points at frame four. "This is representative of a majority of finer frames made in the first three quarters of the 19th century," she says, "when the industrial era began. Instead of hand carving, frame makers used reproducible layers of plaster and resin composition molding for ornament.  The white "compo" was covered by gilt decoration.  Early 19th composition frames are influenced by neoclassical lines and restrained in design.  Later, in the Victorian period, many frame makers employed more ornament."

Frame five was made of carved wood decorated by fauna lines.  "This frame was made in the late 19th century, in the Art Nouveau period," the teacher explains, "when hand craftsmanship came back into vogue."

When the now enlightened students were reintroduced to frame five they reveled like children witnessing fireworks.  "This gilded masterpiece was signed on back by the Newcomb-Macklin Company in 1900.  The famous designer, Stanford White, contrived it.  Signed and attributed frames by White, Carrig-Rohane, Charles Prendergast, Doll & Richards, Dennis Dinan, the Foster Bros., Walfred Thulin, Frederick Loeser, Frederick Harer, Childe Hassam, and other artisans can command five figures."

The teacher's bright blue eyes seemed to train on every student at once. "Antique frames are valued according to size, artistry, condition, and maker.  Toward determining the period and value of a frame, you'll find the answer by asking this question: what class of painting rightfully belongs within its realm?"

Her students thought of Picasso and Stuart and Van Gogh and Manet, and wondered what mode of frame did they choose.

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