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 Egg tempera was a primary method of painting until after 1500 when it was superseded by the invention of oil painting.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