The Alphabet of Art & Antiques – T is for …


A tankard is a tall metal  – usually silver or pewter – drinking vessel with one handle for beer, ale or cider. The earliest surviving tankards from the 16th and 17th centuries have the same basic form – straight, tapering sides with an S-shaped handle, rectangular thumbpiece and a hinged lid.

From S.J. Shrubsole: A pair of George III antique English silver tankards by Augustin Le Sage. London, 1770.


A tantalus is a mid-19th century decorative stand, openwork case or box for spirit decanters. Its defining feature is that it has a lock and key. The aim of that is to stop unauthorized people drinking the contents, while still allowing them to be on show. The name is a reference to the unsatisfied temptations of the Greek mythological character Tantalus.

From Newel: French Victorian oak tantalus set with iron handle and cut crystal decanters.


Tempera, also known as egg tempera, is a permanent, fast-drying painting medium consisting of powdered color pigments, mixed with egg yolk or egg white and water. Tempera also refers to the paintings done in this medium. Tempera paintings are very long-lasting, and examples from the first century AD still exist. Egg tempera was a primary method of painting until after 1500 when it was superseded by the invention of oil painting.

A 1367 tempera on wood by Niccolò Semitecolo

Tester bed

A tester bed is a bed with a canopy of carved or draped wood above it (formerly called a celure). A half tester bed is one with the canopy supported above the head and with no posts at the foot.

Ornate Elizabethan tester bed

Thebes stool

A Thebes stool is a wooden stool with a thonged leather or wooden seat based on an Egyptian design and introduced by Liberty and Company, Ltd. in 1884.

Late 19th century Thebes stool by Liberty and Company, Ltd. Image via the RISD Museum.

Torchère or torchière

A torchère is a lamp with a tall stand of wood or metal. Originally, torchères were tall candle-stands.

Pair of tripod candlestands or torchères, circa 1740. Image via The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


A trefoil is a Gothic ornament in the shape of three symmetrical leaves. A quatrefoil has four leaves, a cinquefoil five. These ornaments were much used in the nineteenth-century Gothic revival.

Triforium (gallery or arcade above the arches of a church’s nave) with trefoil tracery. Amiens Cathedral, France, 1220-30.


“Tremblant” or “en tremblant” is a French term – meaning “to tremble”. It was first used to describe 18th and 19th-century jewelry where parts of the diamond set pieces (a flower or a bee, for example) were attached to a coiled spring which trembles when the wearer moves. Brooches mounted in this way were particularly effective in reflecting the scintillating fire of candlelight.

Large Victorian era antique “tremblant” diamond brooch. French, circa 1880. Image via Romanov Russia.

Trompe l’oeil

Trompe l’oeil is French for “deceive the eye”. The term refers to painted decoration with natural shadows designed to to trick the eye into perceiving a painted detail as a three-dimensional object.

From Carlton Hobbs: Trompe l’oeil detail on an unusual pair of faux wood painted benches, North Italy Or Tyrolean. Circa 1800.

By Vera Vandenbosch

The Alphabet of Art & Antiques – S is for…


A salver is a plate or tray, typically silver or silver-gilt, used for the formal offering of food, drink, letters or visiting cards. The earliest versions in the 17th century have a flat circular top, mounted on a foot to be held by hand of the person serving. Large, heavy, oblong or oval silver salvers evolved into what we know as trays in the 18th century. Small, flat salvers are also known as card trays or waiters.

From SJ Shrubsole: A George II Antique English Silver Salver, London, 1738 by Robert Abercromby.


Sang de boeuf refers to the striking blood-red porcelain glaze that was first used by Chinese potters from the Kangxi period onwards. The French term literally means “oxblood,” and Chinese potters often painted the opaque glaze on a white base that simulated bone. In areas where the glaze lies thickly on the ceramic body, such as near the base of a vase, it forms dark patches like coagulated ox blood. Chinese Imperial artists, aware of the glaze’s beauty, protected its formula for centuries.

18th-century Chinese porcelain bowl with sang-de-boeuf glaze.


A sautoir is a French term for a long necklace that suspends a tassel or other ornament. This type of necklace evolved in the early part of the twentieth century in response to the elongation of the feminine silhouette created by the column dresses of the period. Woven or twisted ropes of pearls suspending a tassel were by far the most popular sautoirs. Often they converted to bracelets, shorter necklaces and head ornaments with interchangeable pendants and tassels that could also be suspended from earrings or another necklace.

From Lang Antiques: Vintage long seed pearl sautoir, circa 1920s.


Savonnerie was a Parisian carpet workshop established 1627 in a former soap factory – the name comes from the French word “savon”, meaning “soap”. Oriental carpet-making techniques were employed with Turkish-knotted wool or silk. The factory made large carpets with classical motifs, landscapes and mythological subjects, and their patterns were widely copied throughout Europe (savonnerie generally refers to all European carpets of similar design). Lighter, rococo-style floral designs were used from the early 18th century. The Savonnerie factory closed in 1825 and the business transferred to the nearby Gobelins tapestry factory.

Tapis de Savonnerie, under Louis XIV, after Charles Le Brun, made for the Grande Galerie in the Louvre.


Scagliola was a material used to imitate marble or pietra dura. It is made from plaster of Paris or clear crystals of gypsum (selenite), various pigments and chips of marble. It was produced in ancient Rome but revived in 16th century Italy, and imported to Britain for interior architectural features such as columns and wall panels in the 18th century. Scagliola was also used for the tops of tables and commodes.

Italian polychrome scagliola top from the second half of the 19th century. Image via Christie’s.


Scrimshaw refers to carvings on bone, ivory, shells or wood, made by sailors as a pastime on long whaling and other voyages. The origin of the word is unknown.

Scrimshaw whale’s tooth by Frederick Myrick, considered by many to be the master of the art. It is believed that he created only about 36 pieces, and this is one of only two depicting the whaleship Frances. They were all done while Myrick was serving aboard the Nantucket whaler Susan on a Pacific voyage from 1826 to 1829.


A semainier is a French cupboard or chests of drawers with seven compartments, one for each day of the week. The nearest British equivalent was the Wellington chest, made in the mid-19th century.

Directoire mahogany semainier. Image via Sotheby’s.


Singerie is the name given to a visual arts genre depicting monkeys imitating human behavior, often fashionably attired, intended as a diverting sight, always with a gentle cast of mild satire. The term is derived from the French word for “Monkey Trick”. Though it has a long history, the height of the genre was in the 18th century, in the Rococo. Although it was not much used after 1800, it was revived in the 19th century after the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

Barbershop with monkeys and cats, by Abraham Teniers, mid-17th century.


Stumpwork is needlework or embroidery in which all or most of the ornament is raised into relief on a foundation of wool or cotton/wool.

Close-up of a British stumpwork box from circa 1650.

By Vera Vandenbosch

The Alphabet of Art & Antiques – R is for …


Raku is a type of hand shaped porous Japanese pottery with a thick lead glaze, in colors ranging from dark brown and light red to straw, green and cream. First produced in the 16th century, and closely associated with the tea ceremony. Still used in Japan today.

Raku tea bowl by Ichinyu-Raku IV (possibly), 17th century; in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.


A rapier is sword consisting of a metal blade, longer than a dagger and fitted with a handle or hilt equipped with a guard. A rapier is designed for thrusting rather than slashing or cutting, and was popular in the 16th and 17th centuries.

From Peter Finer: A silver-encrusted rapier, English, circa 1635.

Regard ring

A regard ring is a ring which has been set with a gemstone acrostic or puzzle. The first letters of the gemstones correspond with the word “regard” – Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Ruby and Diamond – and are set in that sequence. The antiquated word for garnet, vermeil was used for the letter “v “and “j” as in the gemstone jacinth, was used to stand in for the letter” i “. First introduced by the French jeweler Mellerio in 1809, acrostic rings soon became very popular tokens of loving sentiments. The fad swept Europe and Empress Marie Louise had three acrostic bracelets commissioned to acknowledge the love between Napoleon and herself.

From Lang Antiques: Victorian regard ring.

Régence versus Regency

Even though they sound alike, Régence and Regency refer to two quite different styles. The French Régence years were in the early 18th century when King Louis XV was too young to reign and so Philippe d’Orléans governed in his place as Prince Regent. The fine furniture and decorative arts in this period were in a transitional style – lighter and less formal than the preceding Louis XIV style, the result of shifting tastes between the previous Baroque styling that was popular during the reign of Louis XIV, and the rising Rococo look that would become fashionable during the reign of King Louis XV after he took the throne as an adult. About a century later, across the channel in England, the English Regency era occurred in the early 19th century. During those years George IV served as Prince Regent on behalf of his father George III who wasn’t well enough to govern. But the term English Regency style usually refers to a longer time span than just those 9 years, continuing through to around 1837. Regency furniture retained the neoclassical look of the preceding Georgian era, inspired by ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian design. Other characteristics include: symmetrical and streamlined designs, dark woods and dramatic decorative veneers often accented by gold and metal accents, and classic decorative motifs including rosettes, laurel wreaths, acanthus leaves and lyres, which are U-shaped harps.

Left: French Régence walnut chair, circa 1715-1730, image via The Cleveland Museum of Art. Right: English Regency mahogany open armchair after a design by Thomas Hope, possibly by Marsh and Tatham, circa 1800, image via Christie’s.


Repoussé is a form of chasing on silver and other metals to provide intricate patterns and to sharpen detail. The technique involves first embossing (pushing out) the general shapes from the reverse of the piece to create a three-dimensional effect on the outer surface. The repoussé (pushed back) element comes in when the finer decorative details are added by selective pushing back of these raised surfaces from the front.

An American repoussé silver five-piece tea service, mark of Samuel Kirk & Son Co., 1903-1924. Image via Christie’s.


A rocaille is a rococo design ornament in the form of irregular wavy and rocky surfaces resembling seafoam and shell embedded rocks. Often rococo artifacts can be identified by the asymmetrical design of this ornament.

Various Designs for Rocaille Ornaments, by artist and engraver Jeremias Wachsmuth (German, 1712–1771). Image via The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Rouleau vase

A rouleau vase is a Chinese porcelain vase shape with straight cylindrical shape and a straight narrow neck raising from an angular shoulder.

A famille-verte “Romance of Sui and Tang” rouleau vase, Qing dynasty, Kangxi period. Image via Sotheby’s.

Ryijy rug

Ryijy is a woven Finnish long-tufted tapestry or knotted-pile carpet hanging. The name ryijy originated with the Scandinavian word rya, which means “thick cloth”. The decorative ryijy rug is an art form unique to Finland.

Late 18th century wedding ryijy made of plant-dyed yarn, featuring traditional motifs of husband and wife, plants, and birds.


A rhyton is a roughly conical container from which liquids were intended to be drunk or poured out as an offering to the gods. They are typically formed in the shape of an animal’s head, and were produced over large areas of ancient Eurasia, especially from Persia to the Balkans.

Rhyton shaped as a gazelles head, from Hamadan, Iran, 5th century BC. Image via the National Museum of Iran in Tehran.

By Vera Vandenbosch

The Alphabet of Art & Antiques – Q is for…


Qingbai is Chinese porcelain from the Song dynasty (960-1279) with its signature translucent misty-blue glaze. It is also known as yingqing.

A Qingbai carved deep conical bowl, southern Song dynasty, 13th century. Image via Christie’s.


A quadrant is a navigation instrument used for measuring altitude. It is made up of a quarter-circle of wood or metal marked with a graded scale of angles. From the late 16th century quadrants made of brass, or brass and mahogany, with a pivoted radius, or index arm, came into use.

An Astrolabe quadrant, probably Italian circa 1400. Image via Dorotheum.


A quaich is a drinking vessel (pronounced “quake”, from the Gaelic word “cuach”), a uniquely Scottish invention. It is believed that its ancestor was the scallop shell, in which drams of whisky were taken in the Highlands and Islands. Like the shells, quaichs were always wide and shallow. The distinctive shape has remained the same for more than four hundred years.

Antique silver Scottish quaich, circa 1900. Image via Scottish Antiques.


A quarrel or bolt is the term for the ammunition used in a crossbow. The name quarrel is derived from the French carré (“square”), referring to the fact that they usually have square heads.

Crossbow bolts or quarrels, probably 15th or 16th century. Image via The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Quartering is a veneering lay-out/technique using four pieces of wood with the same grain pattern to form a surface. Each quarter has a pattern that is a mirror image of the one alongside.

Detail image of a Tucker & Marks-designed powder room with quartered veneer walls. Photo by Edward Addeo.

Quartetto tables

A set of four small tables, slightly decreasing in size from one table to the next, so that they can be fitted into each other to form a nest, or used separately.

A set of regency specimen-wood quartetto tables by Gillows, circa 1810-15. Image via Christie’s.


A quatrefoil is an ornamental design that usually consists of 4 partial and intersecting circles, resembling a flower or four-leaf clover.

The quatrefoils adorning the loggia of the Doge’s Palace in Venice, Italy.

Queen’s Ware

Queen’s Ware is a type of Wedgwood ceramic named after the gift of a tea set to Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, which resulted in the appointment of Wedgwood as Potter to Her Majesty in 1765. Wedgwood immediately named his range of cream colored tableware Queen’s Ware. By 1775 Wedgwood’s Queen’s ware was being imitated all over Europe as the continental potteries reacted to its virtual monopoly in high quality earthenware. In France the imitation wares were known as “faience anglaise”.

Tureen with plate. Wedgwood Queen’s ware, circa 1770. Photo by Jacques Pugin. © Musée Ariana, Geneva, Switzerland.


Quilling or Paper Filigree is an art form that involves the use of strips of paper that are rolled, shaped, and glued together to create decorative designs. During the Renaissance, French and Italian nuns and monks used quilling to decorate book covers and religious items. The paper most commonly used was strips of paper trimmed from the gilded edges of books. These gilded paper strips were then rolled to create the quilled shapes. Quilling often imitated the original ironwork of the day. The name quilling is said to be derived from the fact that the nuns and monks originally used feather quills as their tool to roll the paper.

Tea caddy with quilled decorations, circa 1780-1800. Image via the V&A.

By Vera Vandenbosch

The Alphabet of Art & Antiques – P is for…

Parcel gilt

Parcel gilt is a term used to describe silverware or furniture, parts of which are gilded, such as areas of carved or moulded decoration.

From Carlton Hobbs: one of a rare pair of white painted and parcel gilt salon chairs in the French taste. English, 1830.

Partners desk

A partners’ desk is a late 18th century and 19th century type of large English desk at which two people can work facing each other. The desk has drawers and/or cupboards on each side.

From Daniel Stein Antiques: An English mahogany partners desk of compact size with a gilt-tooled leather top, circa 1860.


A parure is a matching set of jewelery, usually including a necklace, brooch, bracelet and earrings. Parures were first worn in the 16th century and came into vogue again in the 19th century.

Antique neoclassical cameo parure in original box. Grand tour souvenir from Italy, early 19th century. Image via Eleuteri.


A patera is a small flat circular or oval medallion motif, often decorated with acanthus leaves or flower petals, and often used on silver, furniture, etcetera.

Design for a frieze, ornamented with lion’s head paterae. British, late 18th – early 19th century. Image via The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Pavé, from the French word for “paved”, referring to a jewelery setting in which gemstones, often diamonds, are set very close together like paving stones to hide the backing metal. The technique was popular in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

From Lang Antiques: Pavé platinum dome ring.


A piecrust edge is a scalloped decorative rim reminiscent of the crimped edges of a pie, which was popular on furniture and silverware (where it is known as a Chippendale rim) in the mid- 18th century, and much reproduced in the 19th century.

The Bunting family Chippendale carved and figured mahogany piecrust tilt-top tea table, Philadelphia, circa 1770. Image via Sotheby’s.

Pietra dura

Pietra dura is a term for the inlay technique of using cut and fitted, highly polished semiprecious stones and different colored marbles to create patterns and images. Pietra dura is also known as Florentine mosaic.

From Carlton Hobbs: Remarkable center table with inscribed top made with a mosaic of ancient specimen marbles collected from the site of the Palace of the Caesars in the Farnese gardens, Rome. The Top, probably Rome, circa 1845. Base designed to support top, circa 1980s.

Poker work

Poker work is a technique for decorating woodwork, using a hot tool to burn patterns into a surface, practiced since at least the early 17th century in Italy. It was particularly popular during the Victorian period in Britain and during the arts and crafts movement. It also appears on cottage-style furniture of the early 20th century.

An Italian cedar and poker work cassone, late 17th century. Image via Christie’s.


A pricket – or pricket stick – is the earliest type of candlestick, with a metal spike on which the candle was stuck.

Pricket candlestick with fantastic creatures. Circa 1150 – 1175, South Netherlands. Image via The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

By Vera Vandenbosch

The Alphabet of Art & Antiques – O is for …

Object de vertu

Objets de vertu (roughly translated as “precious objects”) are tiny decorative pieces noted for their fineness of material and craft, often reflecting considerable effort and finesse on the part of the maker. While such objects date from antiquity and appear in various world cultures, they are mostly associated with European customs of religious devotion and later, the consumption habits of aristocrats and nobles. The former category includes crucifixes, religious figurines, rosaries, and reliquaries, while the latter includes brooches, cameos, snuff boxes, statuettes, and watch pieces. Perhaps the most prized examples today are the series of easter eggs made by the Russian House of Fabergé for Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mosaic egg made by Russian jeweller and goldsmith Peter Carl Faberge, originally commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II in 1914 and acquired by Queen Mary in 1933. Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images.


An ogee is a double curve shape – two curves, going from convex to concave, or vice-versa – often seen in Gothic and Gothic revival architecture, but the term can also refer to the double curve shape in decorative arts such as furniture and textile design.

From the 18th century pattern book ”Gothic Architecture” by Batty Langley – note the pointed 4-centered ogee arches decorating the frieze.


Okimono are small Japanese sculptured figures usually made of ivory but also of bone or wood. They were made as decorative ornaments for the home during the Meiji (1816-1912) and Taisho (1912-26) periods, and exported to Europe and the USA.

Ornament of Fish in Waves (Okimono) from the Khalili Collection of Japanese Meiji Art. Japan circa 1900.

Onslow pattern

Onslow is a distinctive pattern of flatware, sometimes called “Scroll”: narrow stemmed, widening at the end, which was ribbed and folded over downwards into a widening volute or scroll. The pattern was used mostly on the handles of mid 18th century serving spoons and ladles. It was named after Sir Arthur Onslow (1691 -1768), six times Speaker of the House of Commons.

From S.J. Shrubsole: A George III Antique English Silver Onslow Pattern Soup Ladle. London, 1761 by George Baskerville.

Opus sectile

Opus Sectile is a mosaic style where slabs of stone are shaped and fitted together as a jigsaw puzzle. It was popular in early Roman times and revived during the Renaissance in Florence, where it became known as pietra dura.

Tigress attacking a calf, marble opus sectile (325–350 AD) from the Basilica of Junius Bassus on the Esquiline Hill, Rome.


Ormolu (from the French term “or moulu” which means finely minced or pounded gold) is the gilding technique of applying finely ground, high-carat gold–mercury amalgam to a bronze object. The mercury is driven off in a kiln leaving behind a gold coating. The French refer to this technique as “bronze doré” and in English, it is known as “gilt bronze”. Around 1830, legislation in France had outlawed the use of mercury for health reasons, though use continued to the 1900s. Craftsmen principally used ormolu for the decorative mountings of furniture, clocks, lighting, and porcelain.

From Butchoff: Pair of Cleopatra candle vases by Matthew Boulton (1728 – 1809), constructed from Derbyshire Blue-John fluospar and very fine cast and chased ormolu, circa 1770.


An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system that illustrates or predicts the relative positions and motions of the planets and moons.

A German orrery by Ernst Schotte, circa 1892. Image via Christie’s.


The ouroboros or uroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon biting its own tail. The ouroboros represents the concept of eternity and endless return.

From Lang Antiques: Antique ouroboros serpent magnifying glass, circa 1900.

Oxbow front

American term for the undulating front of a chest-of-drawers or other pieces of case furniture with a concave front flanked by two convex curves – the opposite of a serpentine front.

Chest of drawers with oxbow front by Jacob Forster (1764–1838), Charlestown, Mass. Image via Sotheby’s, Important Americana (New York, January 2002).

By Vera Vandenbosch

The Alphabet of Art & Antiques – N is for …


Nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl, is the basic substance secreted by oysters and mollusks to form the inside of their shells. When nacre secretions are deposited around a foreign substance which has invaded the mollusk’s body, they build up to form a pearl. The specific luster, iridescence, and coloring of nacre and, therefore, of any pearl which it forms depends on the number and thickness of the various layers, as well as on whether or not the layers overlap one another.

From Apter Fredericks: An ormolu mounted mother of pearl jewelry or trinket box. Austria, circa 1820.

Nanban (or Namban)

Nanban art refers to Japanese art of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries influenced by contact with the Nanban or “Southern barbarians” – traders and missionaries from Europe and specifically from Portugal. Most Nanbam artists were Christian converts. They created screens, lacquerwork and pottery decorated with Western or Christian subjects such as paintings of Portuguese galleons and their crew and passengers disembarking in Japan.

Nanban byōbu (folding screen) from circa1570-1616, attributed to Kanō Naizen. Image via the Kobe City Museum.


Násfa is a Hungarian term for a sixteenth-century pendant or brooch traditionally attached to the bodice of a garment. Adorned with gems, pearls, and enamel, násfas were often styled with a floral motif. A gift presented by a bridegroom to his bride on the morning after their wedding night would often have been a Násfa, and they were engagement gifts as well.

A rare continental renaissance gold, enamel and diamond-set násfa circa 1626, probably Hungarian. Image via Christie’s.


Navette is another term to describe a marquise shaped gemstone or jewelry contour: pointed at both ends with equally curved sides, i.e. a pointed oval.

From Lang Antiques: Vintage diamond and natural pearl bracelet with slender navette shape links, circa 1900.


A nécessaire is a portable case for personal articles needed when traveling. They usually included toilet necessities, sewing instruments, toothpicks, cutlery and sometimes even cooking utensils. The earliest version were small and pocket-sized, often elaborately decorated. Larger ones were sometimes in the form of caskets or trunks.

Nécessaire fitted with sewing and writing implements as well as a watch, probably 1745-1750. Image via The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


A nef is a vessel shaped like a ship, usually of silver, used in the later Middle Ages for the lord’s napkin, knife and spoon. By the 16th century they were used as table ornaments, especially in Germany and Switzerland, and many were elaborate and accurate models of fully rigged ships.

Large antique silver-gilt model of a nef by Berthold Müller. Germany, circa 1890. Image via Mayfair Gallery.

Neue Sachlichkeit

Neue Sachlichkeit (“New Objectivity”) was a representative style of art that was developed in the 1920s in Germany by artists including Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, and George Grosz. Artworks in this style were often satirical in nature, sending a critical eye upon contemporary taste and the postwar society of Germany. In both content and style, artists of this movement directly challenged and broke away from the traditions of the art academies they had attended.

“The Skat Players – Card Playing War Invalids”, 1920 by Otto Dix. Image via Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.


Niello is a decorative technique on metal, often on silver; an engraved design is filled with a black compound of sulphur and powdered copper, silver or lead and is fixed by heating.

Silver and niello diptych, with gilt-bronze frame, Paris, circa 1500. Image via The Cloisters.


A nimbus is a ring of light that surrounds a person in art. They are often used in religious works to depict holy or sacred figures, and have at various periods also been used in images of rulers or heroes. In, among other religions, Hellenistic Greek, Roman, Buddhist and Christian sacred art, sacred persons may be depicted with a nimbus or halo in the form of a golden, yellow or white circular glow around the head, or around the whole body, which is often called a mandorla.

Mosaic of Christ surrounded by angels and saints in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy, circa 526.

By Vera Vandenbosch

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

The Alphabet of Art & Antiques – L is for …

Lacca Contrafatta

Lacca Contrafatta (also termed Lacca Povera) was developed to imitate the appearance of costly, scarce, and fashionable high value lacquer being imported into Europe from the far East. This popular form of decoration sprang up in Venice circa 1750 and used prints, cut and pasted on to armoires, cabinets and chests, then painted, gilded and finished with clear varnish. Interestingly, Lacca Contrafatta is now rarer and possibly more valued in the west than the material it imitated.

18th century Venetian secretary in Lacca Contrafatta. Imagia via Honolulu Academy of Arts.


Latticino is a term used to describe glass decorated with a pattern of white, or sometimes colored, threads of glass. The technique is also known as Filigrana (thread-grained). It was developed in 16th century Venice and has been used to produce three main effects on glass: vetro a retorti, which has twists embedded in clear glass; vetro a reticello, which has a fine network of crossed threads; and vetro a fili, which has a spiral or helix pattern.

19th century Venetian goblet, in latticino vetro a reticello. Image via the V&A.

Lava Glass

Lava glass is a dark blue lustre art glass developed by the US designer Louis Comfort Tiffany in the late 19th century. It has iridescent gold streaks – supposed to resemble flows of lava – and was originally called volcanic glass.

Lava glass vase by the Tiffany Studios, circa 1914. Image via The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.


A lavallière is a necklace comprised of small links with a single, usually pearl, drop pendant. It is named after Louise Françoise de La Baume Le Blanc, Duchesse de La Vallière (1644-1710), mistress of Louis XIV and the design was very popular around 1900.

From Lang Antiques: Edwardian diamond lavallière necklace.

Laque Burgauté

Laque burgauté, also spelled Lac Burgauté, is an East Asian technique of decorating lacquer ware with inlaid designs using pieces of the iridescent blue-green shell of the sea-ear (Haliotis). This shell inlay is sometimes engraved and occasionally combined with gold and silver. Workmanship is exquisite; therefore, laque burgauté is principally used to decorate small-scale objects as tiny boxes, miniature table screens, vases, and wine cups.

Late 19th-century Japanese Laque Burgauté snuff bottle.


A lenticle is the glass panel in a clock case through which one can see the movement of the pendulum.

A 17th century marquetry longcase clock with oval lenticle. Image via Tobias Birch Fine Antique Clocks.


Linenfold (or linen fold) is a simple style of relief carving used to decorate wood panelling with a design imitating folded linen. Linen fold furniture is furniture that has panels of decoration in the form of folded linen. Originally from Flanders, the style became widespread across Northern Europe in the 14th to 16th centuries.

Linenfold paneling. Image via Britannica.


French for “boat-shaped bed”, a lit-en-bateau is an Empire-style bed with curving head and footboards, often forming S-shaped scrolls.

A late Empire ormolu-mounted mahogany lit-en-bateau, in the manner of Jacob Desmalter, circa 1815. Image via Christie’s.

Lover’ eye miniature

A “lover’s eye” miniature is a painted miniature of the giver’s eye, presented to a loved one. The notion accompanying this very short-lived fad (circa1790 through 1820) was that the eye would be recognizable only to the recipient and could, therefore, be worn publicly keeping the lover’s identity a secret. Painted in watercolor on ivory or gouache on card, the miniatures were set in rings, pendants, brooches, and lockets for women and various containers such as snuff boxes and toothpick cases for men.

Lover’s eye miniature pin. Image via the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

By Vera Vandenbosch

The Alphabet of Art & Antiques – K is for …


A Kalaga is a heavily embroidered appliqué tapestry made of silk, flannel, felt, wool and lace against a background made of cotton or velvet. Kalagas were originally developed in Burma (now Myanmar) at the Mandalay court (1850-1885) to serve as wall hangings, curtains, room partitions, coffin covers and theatre backdrops. These traditional Burmese tapestries depicted scenes from various legends as well as events of religious importance.

Antique Burmese Kalaga Tapestry, image via Cultural Patina.


A type of ancient Greek cup with a tall foot and two high-swung handles, used to hold wine, possibly for drinking or for ritual use and offerings. Although almost all surviving examples are in pottery, the form probably originated in metalwork.

Kantharos with Zeus Pursuing a Boy. Circa 490-480 BCE. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


Kente cloth refers to a Ghanaian textile, made of handwoven cloth strips of silk and cotton. Historically the fabric was worn in a toga-like fashion by royalty among ethnic groups including the Ashanti, the Akyem, and the Fante. In modern Ghana, the wearing of Kente cloth has become widespread to commemorate special occasions, with highly sought after Kente brands led by master weavers.

Left: The Ashanti king Nana Otumfoe Sir Osai Agyemang Prempeh II (ruled April 24, 1933 – May 27, 1970), right: vintage Kente cloth, as seen on the pages of Hand/Eye Magazine.

Kinetic art

Kinetic art is art that incorporates movement as part of its expression – either mechanically, by hand, or by natural forces. A good example of kinetic art are the mobiles by Alexander Calder. Kinetic art became a major phenomenon of the late 1950s and the 1960s. In the 1960s artists such as Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely experimented with geometric shapes that distort the viewer’s perception, creating artworks which, although static, give the impression of movement.

Alexander Calder’s Various Shapes, Colors, Planes (1951) was sold at Sotheby’s New York for $2.3 million in May 2018.


Kingwood is a classic furniture wood, almost exclusively used for inlays on very fine furniture and small solid items. It was the most expensive wood in general use for furniture making in the seventeenth century, at which time it was known as princes wood. It is available only in small sizes (it is yielded by a smallish tree, Dalbergia Cearensis, restricted to a small area in Brazil). Kingwood is also called violet wood because of the brownish/purple color of its markings, It was given its name because it was preferred by the kings of France in the 18th century.

A French ormolu-mounted kingwood and mahogany bureau plat by Frédéric Schmit, Paris, circa 1860. Image via Christie’s.

Klismos chair

A klismos chair is a type of ancient Greek chair, with curved backrest and tapering, outcurved legs. This timeless design was first introduced into Western society way back in the 5th century BCE. Variations of the klismos chair can be found in basically every neoclassical-inspired movement, but it’s most prominent in the French Directoire and Empire, the English Regency, and the American Federal and Empire styles.

The most famous example of the ancient klismos chair may be the Stele of Hegeso, a tombstone made in Athens around 400 BCE, showing a woman named Hegeso seated in a curved, graceful klismos chair.

Kneehole desk

A kneehole desk, which dates back to the early 18th century, has sets of drawers on either side of the recessed or “kneehole” area that provides room for the legs when a chair is pulled up to the desk.

From Ronald Phillips: A George II mahogany library desk by Thomas Chippendale. English, circa 1760.


The kovsh is a traditional drinking vessel or ladle from Russia. It was oval-shaped like a boat with a single handle and could also be shaped like a water bird or a Norse longship. Originally the kovsh made from wood and used to serve and drink mead, with specimens excavated from as early as the tenth century. Metal kovsh began to appear around the 14th century. By the 17th century, the kovsh was often an ornament rather than a practical vessel, and in the 19th century it was elaborately cast in precious metals for presentation as an official gift of the tsarist government.

A kovsh by Vasilli Matveev Kunkin from 1758; in the collection of the Walters Art Museum.


Cabinets of curiosities (also known in German loanwords as Kunstkabinett, Kunstkammer or Wunderkammer; also Cabinets of Wonder, and wonder-rooms) were collections of notable objects – from the worlds of natural history, geology, ethnography, archaeology, religious or historical relics, works of art and antiquities. The term cabinet originally described a room rather than a piece of furniture. The classic cabinet of curiosities emerged in the sixteenth century. In addition to the most famous and best documented cabinets of rulers and aristocrats, members of the merchant class and early practitioners of science in Europe formed collections that were precursors to museums. Cabinets of curiosities served not only as collections to reflect the particular curiosities of their curators but as social devices to establish and uphold rank in society.

“A corner of a cabinet”, painted by Frans II Francken in 1636.

By Vera Vandenbosch

The Alphabet of Art & Antiques – J is for …

Jabot pin

A jabot pin is a brooch with a bejeweled motif at either end. It is pinned in such a way that only the decorative ends are seen, allowing the fabric to show in between. Jabot pins were used to secure the ruffled or lace piece of fabric (the jabot) that men wore on the front of their shirts.

An Art Deco jadeite, pearl, onyx, enamel and diamond jabot pin, by Cartier, circa 1925. Image via Bonhams.


Jacobean refers to the English style influenced by the reign of King James (1603-1625). Jacobean furniture was lighter than Tudor furniture, made to be seen from all angles, placed a greater emphasis on comfort, and reflected England’s growing global presence. Early American furniture is based on this period.

Model of a Jacobean “withdrawing room” or bedroom, based upon an interior from the manor house of Knole, Kent, England, mixed-media model by the workshop of Mrs. James Ward Thorne, circa1930–40; in the Art Institute of Chicago. Photography © The Art Institute of Chicago

Jadeite versus Jade

Jadeite is the term used to differentiate the high-quality jade suitable for use in jewelery from the lower quality jade used in larger decorative pieces. Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is the source of more than 90 per cent of the world’s jadeite. Contrary to popular belief, jadeite is not only green. It comes in many colors, including white, black, lavender, red and yellow, and can also be a colorless stone.

From Lang Antiques: French Art Deco natural Burmese jadeite, diamond and enamel brooch. Circa 1920s.


Japanning is a type of finish that originated as a European imitation of Asian lacquerwork. It was first used on furniture, but was later much used on small items in metal. The word originated in the 17th century. American work is more often called toleware. Japanning is most often a heavy black “lacquer”, almost like enamel paint. The European technique uses varnishes that have a resin base, similar to shellac, applied in heat-dried layers which are then polished, to give a smooth glossy finish. It can also come in reds, greens and blues.

From Carlton Hobbs: A Regency japanned secretaire set commemorating the “great comet” of 1811. English, circa 1811.


A jardinière (“female gardener” in French) is an ornamental stand for plants or flowers or a large – usually ceramic – flowerpot holder.

From Jesse Davis Antiques: Beautiful Minton majolica passion flower motif jardiniere on stand. English, circa 1860.


A jarretière is a strap bracelet made from flat, broad links with a buckle fastener. The style appeared in the mid-nineteenth century and has been revived in all succeeding decorative periods.

From Lang Antiques: Retro jarretière with buckle and mordant, accented by chrysoberyl and diamonds.


Jasperware is a type of pottery first developed by Josiah Wedgwood in the 1770s. Usually described as stoneware, it has an unglazed matte “biscuit” finish and is produced in a number of different colors, of which the most common and best known is a pale blue that has become known as Wedgwood Blue. Relief decorations in contrasting colors (typically in white) are characteristic of jasperware, giving a cameo effect.

Jasperware dish by Josiah Wedgwood and Sons, circa 1789. Image via the Metropolitan Museum.


Jet is a type of black/brown coal formed from the fossilized wood of a Jurassic period tree. Under great pressure for millions of years, ordinary driftwood from this tree is transformed into the gem we refer to as jet.The necessary ingredients and chemistry were present in abundance on the north-eastern coast of Great Britain 180 million years ago, in particular, the area around the fishing port of Whitby, Yorkshire. Jet was used in Britain as far back as the Neolithic period when it was made into beads for personal adornment. The Romans used jet for rings, hair embellishment, pendants and other forms of jewelry. Popular use of this stone died out until the Victorian era, when it was often used in mourning jewelry that was worn in remembrance of a dearly departed family member or friend.

From Lang Antiques: Georgian hair and French jet mourning brooch.


Jūbako are tiered boxes used to hold and present food in Japan. The boxes are often used to hold takeaway lunches, or bento, or to hold osechi, foods traditional to the Japanese New Year.

Mid-19th century jūbako by Shibata Zeshin, housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

By Vera Vandenbosch

The Alphabet of Art & Antiques – I is for …

Ice glass

Ice glass refers to a decorative effect that causes the surface of the glass to resemble cracked ice, with a frosted appearance. It is made by rolling partly blown molten glass over powdered glass, then reheating it and blowing into shape. It can also be created by plunging white-hot molten glass into cold water to produce veined tiny cracks. Ice glass is also called crackle glass, frosted glass, or verre craquelé.

English crackle glass jug, 19th century. Image via Moorabool Antique Galleries.


Imari refers to heavily decorated Japanese porcelain with overglaze enamels and gilding which was exported to Europe in large quantities, especially between the second half of the 17th century and the first half of the 18th century. Typically Imari ware is decorated in underglaze blue, with red, gold, black for outlines, and sometimes other colors, added in overglaze. In the most characteristic floral designs most of the surface is colored, with “a tendency to over-decoration that leads to fussiness”. The style was so successful that Chinese and European producers began to copy it.

Japanese Imari five piece garniture, Edo period, 18th century, image via Christie’s


Imbrication is a type of decoration or pattern with overlapping edges, such as overlapping scales or tiles.

From epoca: Pair of 1940s Italian painted and parcel-gilt pineapple lamps, with carved imbricated body


Intaglio is a technique which dates back to antiquity and is still in use at present. Patterns, designs or images are carved or engraved in gemstones leaving a hollow impression in the untouched background. This style of carving is the opposite of the cameo technique. By the nineteenth-century, intaglios were not considered optimal for jewelry; Victorians preferred cameos. Intaglios were relegated almost entirely to fobs and seals. In 1840 the postage stamp virtually eliminated the need for wax seals and the art of the intaglio began to wane.

From Lang Antiques: Victorian onyx intaglio ring


An Italian term for elaborately detailed pictorial marquetry or inlaid decoration used on furniture in Renaissance Italy and also sixteenth-century Germany. panelling and furniture. Various woods, tortoiseshell, metals and ivory were chosen for color and texture to create a realistic architectural perspective, or a symmetrical still-life group of objects such as musical or precision instruments. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has on display a complete studio from the Palazzo ducale di Gubbio (below). Designed by Sienese artist Francesco di Giorgio Martini, an intarsia technique was used to create images of latticework cabinets and drawers on the room panels.

Irish Furniture

During the 18th century, very few Irish families were wealthy enough to afford luxurious furnishings. With middle-class demand virtually non-existent, almost all Irish furniture was of exceptional quality and crafted exclusively for the tiny aristocratic population. Though talented 18th-century Irish craftsmen produced only a relatively few pieces, their work is considered among the finest ever. Today, Irish furniture is highly sought after by collectors, though few pieces are found on the market.

From O’Sullivan Antiques: Early 18th Century Irish fossilized marble topped side table

Ironstone china

Created to imitate porcelain, Ironstone china was first made in England in 1813 by Charles James Mason of Staffordshire and was known as “Mason’s Ironstone.” Ironstone china is very hard, opaque and pale-bodied. There is no iron in ironstone; its name is derived from its notable strength and durability.

From Earle D. Vandekar of Knightsbridge: Mason or Ashworth hexagonal ironstone vases and covers, circa 1840


Istoriato (literally translated as “with a story in it”) is a style of pottery decoration, originating about 1500 in Faenza, Italy, and popular throughout the 16th century, in which paintings comparable in seriousness to Italian Renaissance easel paintings were applied to maiolica ware. The subjects—biblical, historical, and mythological scenes—are executed with a realism (including the use of perspective) quite unlike any previous pottery decoration.

Italian maiolica istoriato dish, mid-16th century. Image via Christie’s.


Ivrene is ivory-colored, slightly iridescent art glass developed by glassmaker and glass designer Frederick Carder during the 1920s. The color was created by adding the minerals feldspar and cryolite to molten glass, and the iridescence was achieved by spraying the finished object with tin chloride and then reheating it.

Frederick Carder ivrene glass vase for Steuben

Iznik pottery

Iznik pottery, or Iznik ware, named after the town of İznik in western Anatolia where it was made, is a decorated ceramic that was produced from the last quarter of the 15th century until the end of the 17th century. This Turkish earthenware was decorated with bright, high-temperature colors under a glassy quartz glaze. Bright blue, green, turquoise and an impasto red were typical, and blue and white Chinese-inspired wares were also made.

Iznik pottery dish, Ottoman Turkey, circa 1570. Image via Christie’s.

By Vera Vandenbosch