The Alphabet of Art & Antiques – M is for …


In different periods of time and in different countries the word majolica has been used for two distinct types of pottery. Firstly, from mid-15th century onwards there was maiolica, a type of pottery reaching Italy from Spain, Majorca and beyond. This was made by a tin-glaze process, resulting in an opaque white glazed surface decorated with brush-painting in metal oxide enamel colors. During the 17th century, the English added the letter j to their alphabet. Maiolica was commonly anglicized to majolica thereafter. Secondly, there is the Victorian mid to late 19th century type of pottery also known as majolica made by a more simple process whereby colored lead glazes were applied direct to an unfired clay mould, typically relief-moulded, resulting in brightly colored, hard-wearing, inexpensive wares both useful and decorative, typically in naturalistic style. This type of majolica was introduced to the public at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, later widely copied and mass-produced. Minton & Co., who developed the colored lead glazes product, also developed and exhibited at the 1851 Exhibition a tin-glazed product in imitation of Italian maiolica which they called also majolica.

From Earle D. Vandekar of Knightsbridge: Majolica figure of a cat, circa 1890.

Mandarin palette

Mandarin palette is a combination of enamel colors including a distinctive purplish-red and pink, and gold – a variant of the famille-rose palette – used on Chinese export porcelain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Typical panel scenes of families out-of-doors, sometimes alternating with panels of flowers, are set against a densely celled or trellised ground and often framed in underglaze blue.

A Chinese export porcelain “mandarin palette” foxhunting bowl, circa 1785. Image via Christie’s.


Marquetry is an ornamental assembly of wood veneers applied on the face of the object usually over its entire surface – in floral, landscape, arabesque or other patterns. It differs from inlay, in which a cutout recess on a solid piece of furniture is filled with decoration.

From Carlton Hobbs: One of an exquisite pair of neoclassical marquetry and steel mounted petit commodes, probably Naples, circa 1780.

Marquise chair

A marquise chair is broad chair to accommodate two people, made in France towards the end of the 17th century. The marquise is similar to the bergère but lower and wider.

Lithograph of the Marquise Chair and Marquise Armchair in the Louis XV Style, second half of the 19th century. Image via the Hermitage Museum.

Memento Mori

Memento mori jewelry is the name given to sixteenth through eighteenth-century jewelry that was created as a reminder of the inevitability of death and the need to live piously. Translation from the Latin, “remember you must die,” is very clearly indicative of the objective of the theme. Skulls, skeletons, and coffins, often worked in gold and enamel were the predominant motifs vividly illustrating the underlying sentiment of pending mortality.

Skull and bones pre-Georgian memento mori ring.


Mezzotint is an engraving technique developed in the seventeenth century which allows for the creation of prints with soft gradations of tone and rich and velvety blacks. Mezzotint prints are made from an engraved copper or steel plate on which the surface has been partially roughened, for shading, and partially scraped smooth, giving light areas. The technique was much used in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries for the reproduction of paintings.

John Martin, Plate from “Illustrations to the Bible”: Belshazzar’s Feast, published 1835. Image via The Tate Museum.


Italian for ‘thousand flowers’ — a decorative glass-making technique. The ‘flowers’ are made from transverse slices of colored glass canes, which are embedded in a clear glass body when it is still in a molten state. Although the technique was used in early Egyptian and Roman mosaic glass, the name millefiori was not applied until the 16th century when it was revived in Venice. It has since been applied to vases, bowls, door knobs, paperweights and more.

Vintage Murano millefiori flower vase, image via Invaluable.


A mortise-and-tenon joint is a joint formed by cutting a hole or mortise, in one piece of wood into which is fitted a projecting piece, or tenon, from another. Sometimes glued or held firm by a wooden dowel. Hatnefer’s chair is a fine example of Egyptian woodworking (circa 1492–1473 B.C.). The various elements were assembled with mortise-and-tenon joinery, and pegs were used to hold the tenons in place. Pegs also fasten the braces to the back and seat. The joins were reinforced with resinous glue.

Image via The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


A monopodium is a decorative pedestal support used on tables and chairs, consisting of the head and one leg of an animal, usually a lion. The monopodium was first seen in Roman furniture, and was revived by late 18th century neoclassical designers such as Thomas Hope.

Table leg with goat head, Roman Imperial Period, 1st – 2nd century A.D. Image via the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

By Vera Vandenbosch