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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Antiques Glossary



The following is a short list of terms which the reader may not know, but which he is likely to encounter sooner or later in his collecting career. Many of these are of French origin and serve as a reminder of how much we owe to French craftsmen and French canons of taste, especially in furniture and porcelain, for the general development of the decorative arts of the past.

In fact, French terminology is almost as frequent in connection with antiques as Italian terminology is with music, and even a slight knowledge of it can add considerably to the pleasure of a visit to famous collections, such as the Wallace or Waddesdon Manor, where the principal treasures come from France.

Aplique: Literally, anything applied to a basic surface. Usually refers to needlework where pieces of one material are applied to another, but the term may be used for mounts or other decorative motifs applied to furniture and objets d'art.

Armoire: A capacious cupboard. Originally the term signified a place for storing armour but it was later used to mean a large wardrobe.

Bleu de Roi : A rich blue colour for porcelain decoration, used at Sevres and invented there in I749.

Boiseries: A general term for woodwork, especially used for carved panelling, doorcases and ornamental fittings in wood.

Bonheur du jour: French ornamental table for writing, often decorated with an enrichment in Sevres porcelain. Boulle Style: Furniture in the manner of the great French craftsman, Andre Charles Boulle, with decorations of brass and tortoiseshell. Many gorgeous pieces were made by him, but they have been extensively copied in later times.

Bracket Clock: Strictly speaking, a clock designed to be set on a bracket and fixed to a wall. The term is, however, loosely used now for most types of shelf and table clock. Britannia Metal: A composite metal made up of copper, zinc, antimony and tin.

Cabriole Leg: An elongated S-shaped form of chair leg, particularly associated with the Queen Anne period. It may be plain or elegantly carved.

Cailloute: A pattern, resembling a network of pebbles, which was used by the Sevres porcelain factory in the eighteenth century.

Chaise Longue: An extended form of chair, useful for invalids, and resembling a sofa so that one may almost lie on it.

Cherub Spandrels: Cherubs' heads in brass which decorate the corners of the dials on many eighteenth-century long case clocks. They are often very finely executed.

Chinoiserie: A general term for articles made in Europe which imitate the Chinese style. It is sometimes used to indicate a fashion for things Chinese themselves.

Cloisonne: A form of enamelling used to decorate metal ornaments. It employs wires which separate the various parts of the design and contain the different-coloured enamels.

Commode: A chest of drawers, including the more gorgeous French type with elaborate mounts of ormolu. Fine Louis XV specimens cost several thousands of pounds.

Console: A decorative side-table, often marble-topped and gilded, made to stand against a wall.

Directoire Style: The style associated in France with the neoclassicism of the years of the Directory which succeeded the French Revolution. It showed a marked severity in comparison with the gorgeousness of earlier years.

Ebeniste: A master cabinet maker. The term is used especially to indicate the famous craftsmen who had royal appointments under the Kings of France, such as A. C. Boulle. Encoignure: An ornamental cupboard which can be placed in a corner.

Engraving: The method of producing prints by a metal plate on which the design has been first cut with a `Graver.' Etching is a process in which a coating of material covers the metal plate which is then incised and treated with acid to force the design into the metal. Mezzotints are produced by roughening the surface of the plate with a `rocker' and then using a `scraper' for the design.

Epergne: Ornamental centre-piece for a table, used for fruits, etc. It may be of silver or of porcelain, some splendid Meissen examples of the latter having survived. Fine cut-glass specimens can also be found.

Escritoire: A cabinet fitted up for writing.

Etagere: A stand with a number of tiers, used for the display of ornaments. Resembles the English `whatnot.'

Faience: A general term for pottery which has been glazed with tin-oxide. It is sometimes called 'tin-enamelled pottery' and various colours can be used. The art has been practised in many countries and from a remote period, but the term `faience' derives from the Italian town of Faenza where many beautiful examples were made.

Famille Rose: - French terms for the various `families' of

Famille Noire: - Chinese porcelain, red, black, green

Famille Verte: -and yellow, according to the prepon-

Famille Jaune : derance of the main colour in the design.

Fauteuil: A finely upholstered armchair, often of gilded wood, with the arms left open.

Fecit: Latin term affixed to a craftsman's name, meaning `made by'. It often appears on engravings to indicate the engraver as opposed to the actual artist.

Finial: Any small ornamental termination, such as the miniature dragons and other animals on the covers of Oriental vases.

Garniture de Cheminee: A set of ornaments, usually porcelain vases, used primarily to decorate a mantelpiece. Three or five pieces are the usual number. A clock may be the central piece in the set.

Gesso: A composition paste which can be applied to wooden or other surfaces and afterwards moulded or gilded. It sets perfectly hard and when gilded is indistinguishable from the basis to which it is applied.

Girandole: Branched candlestick. The term is also used for an ornamental wall-mirror to which candelabra are attached.

Gros Bleu: A dark underglaze blue used on Sevres porcelain. Gueridon: A small stand or table, particularly for holding candelabra.

Hard Paste: The basis of porcelain as originally developed by the Chinese and made from Kaolin and Petuntse. When the secret of it was discovered most European factories reverted to it, but in England a mixture of boneash has been added to the formula, resulting in the celebrated `English Bone China.'

Imari Style: The style of Japanese pottery and porcelain shipped from the port of Imari. Copied from Japanese brocades, it makes frequent use of blue and tomato-red.

Jardiniere: A large pot for holding ornamental plants, frequently with its own matching pedestal. Elaborate `Victorian Majolica' specimens can sometimes be found. Long Case Clocks: Clocks in tall cases and driven by weights. The correct name for `grandfather clocks.'

Louis Quatorze, Quinze, and Seize Styles: The decorative styles associated with the reigns of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI of France. Generally they show a development from the heavy and gilded gorgeousness of Louis XIV to the lighter and more asymmetrical style of Louis XV and the more austere elegance of the time of Louis XVI. The highwater mark of technical perfection was reached in the reign of Louis XV and genuine examples command very high prices at all times.

Lustres: Name used both for the elaborate pendant ceiling lights with numerous glass `drops' and for the Victorian shelf ornaments consisting of glass vases with the drops attached.

Majolica: Italian pottery enamelled with tin and made in various cities from the fifteenth century. Faenza, Florence and Urbino were particularly famous centres. Modern reproductions abound.

Marquetry: Ornamental inlaying of patterns in wood of contrasting colours with the basic material. Intricate examples can be seen on many of the earlier long case clocks.

Netsuke: Miniature Japanese dress-ornaments carved from wood and ivory, or bone and horn. They are usually meticulously made and humorously or imaginatively conceived. Specimens can sometimes be found quite cheaply.

Oeil de Perdrix: A bird's eye (lit. 'partridge-eye') pattern, made up of circles with dots in them, used by the Sevres porcelain factory in the eighteenth century.

Ormolu: A composite metal, made of copper, zinc and tin to resemble gold. Much used as a decorative adjunct to furniture and porcelain in the form of `mounts' and in the best French specimens of the very highest quality, exquisitely cast and chiselled.

Petit Point: Fine needlework resembling tapestry in its finished effect. The entire surface of the canvas is stitched over in wool or silk.

Pinxit: Latin term affixed to the name of an artist on a print, meaning `painted by.' Prie Dieu Chair: A chair with a tall back and low seat which can be turned round and used for kneeling and saying prayers.

Regence Period: Not to be confused with the English `Regency.' It was the period in France (1715-1723) when the young Louis XV ruled under a Regent and was a transitional period between the heavy gorgeousness of the style of Louis XIV and the elegance of the Rococo Age.

Regency .Style: The style associated with the years from roughly i8oo to 1820 in England. Classical and some Egyptian motifs predominate. The term is sometimes extended to take in the years of George IV's actual reign, i82o-30.

Rococo Period: The elaborate style of decoration of the mid eighteenth century using rocks, shells and other marine objects for inspiration is called Rococo. It resulted in a highly asymmetrical and riotous kind of design.

Rose Pompadour: A very lovely soft rose-pink colour, used mainly for porcelain decoration, and invented at Sevres in honour of Madame de Pompadour. It is sometimes miscalled `rose Du Barry.' Savonnerie Carpets: The famous French carpet works of the seventeenth century established in an old soap works was called the Savonnerie. Some splendid examples of its work can be seen at Waddesdon Manor.

Soft Paste Porcelain: Soft paste was the basis of all European porcelain before the secret of the Chinese hard paste was discovered. It consisted of a mixture of clay and ground glass; later other ingredients were added. Soft paste can be tested by cutting with a file which will leave an impression; hard paste is impervious to this test.

Spelter: A composition metal, frequently used in the nineteenth century as an imitation of ormolu and bronze. Thousands of French clocks and figures, often gilded, are to be found in this material. Many of them are attractively modelled, but spelter has none of the lustrous richness of real ormolu and can soon be distinguished from it.

Torchere: A stand for supporting a lamp or candelabrum, made tall to throw the light around the room.

Vernis Martin: A fine varnish, invented by S-E. Martin, and much used on wood panels painted by French artists in the Rococo style. China and other cabinets are sometimes decorated with these.