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