A Glossary of Terms

A French term for the wardrobe; a large, upright, enclosed cupboard with shelves or hooks for hanging garments. Most often seen in a two-door style but also designed with four doors, divided horizontally at armoire center by a pull out shelf. Characteristic carvings can distinguish the region in which an armoire was made, such as Fourque or Normandy. Armoires are built with peg construction in such fashion as can be dismantled and reassembled.

Originally intended for storing arms, pre-17th century armoires were often built into wall paneling. The term was probably first used in the 16th century and extended in meaning to include wardrobes and clothespresses.

Eighteenth century French chair form, first made in the Louis XV style, circa 1725. By the late 18th century, the style spread to other European countries. Closed arms, a wide seat and concave back with a straight or cabriole leg define the bergere style. Usually large in size and upholstered with a loose cushion and low back that glides down and forward to form the arms.

A tall, narrow cupboard with a single door, used to store the elaborate, high bonnets favored by ladies in the Normandy and Brittany regions during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Buffets date back to the Middle Ages and have survived through many variations over three centuries of production. They began as an open stack of shelves, the number of which demonstrated the owner’s social status as a means of exhibiting wealth. The style evolved into a useful serving piece with a shelved storage area enclosed by two doors. Drawers are sometimes included in the design, placed between the doors and surface top.

A two-tiered buffet with the top cabinet being shallower in depth than the bottom. Doors on the taller, top cabinet, can possess wood or glass panels.

Caning is created by interlacing the flexible stems of reeds or rattan (climbing palms of tropical Asia) to form the backs and seats of chairs, benches and daybeds. It is light, durable and insect resistant. From the Regence Period through the Louis XV period, France favored cane work for a more informal country style, however, examples exist in classical styles and some even have gilding. Caning originated in India as early as the 2nd century AD. Due to 17th century imports by the East India Company, this style became popular in England and The Netherlands. The craft and style spread throughout Europe and was especially popular in France during the 18th century. The import of Malayan rattan in the 19th century prompted widespread use.

A decorative lighting fixture with arms branching out to hold candles and later, gas and electric lights. Chandeliers, which are suspended from the ceiling, date back to Anglo-Saxon times, before 1066 and were found mostly in churches and the homes of a privileged few. Eighteenth century England and France produced some very fine examples in silver and carved and gilded wood. The earliest glass chandeliers date to the 1720’s in England. Plain designs became more elaborate including glass icicles and pear shaped drops. In France, the finest pieces favored were ornamented with rock crystal. The exceptional glasswork of the Venetians during the 18th century produced some outstanding and highly decorative chandeliers.

This term describes the European made, Chinese themed and styled furniture and accessories from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The tales of exploration by Marco Polo stimulated the imagination of Europeans for the exotic and mysterious Far East. The growing interest in Chinoiserie, especially during the Rococo period, resulted in the import of silks, porcelains and lacquer for finishes on numerous furniture forms, tea caddies and boxes. Court residences had “Chinese Rooms”, inspired by the decor at Versailles with the reigning Louis XIV in residence. Rumored to be the quarters for the King’s mistress, the Chinese Room featured extensive gilding and lacquering, asymmetrical forms and Oriental figures and motifs. Chinese Export Blue and White porcelains were used to accessorize. Thus, with its popularity, the style influenced even the fine arts and architecture. During the 18th century, pagodas and tea pavilions were found in European parks and as subject matter in Aubusson tapestries that typically featured bucolic scenes. Built by the future King George IV, the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, England is an outstanding example with Eastern influence permeating every detail. Chinoiserie evidenced a period in European culture when Chinese philosophy mixed with Western concepts. It waned in the 19th century with the influence of other exotic cultures coming into fashion.

In France, a wooden trunk or chest intended for holding valuables, blankets and clothes. In use since the Middle Ages, the coffer can be covered in leather with nail heads ornamenting the edges and handles on both ends. Wrought iron scrollwork was also used in a decorative fashion. Coffers often had domed or lipped tops to allow rainwater to run off.

A French chest of drawers with a wood or marble top, raised on legs. The very functional commode developed in late 17th century France and became a prominent furniture form during the 18th century Rococo period. The form underwent many variations in an effort to blend elegance with practicality. At first heavy in appearance, the commode evolved into a more curvilinear form with decorative carving and hardware while lifting higher from the floor on cabriole legs. This look remained in fashion until the Louis XVI period introduced a refined and restrained symmetry of form. The decorative quality of 19th century French country commodes waned as focus redirected to function. The term “commode” also refers to the night table or pot cupboard used to store the bedroom chamber pot.

A small chest with one door and sometimes a drawer. It was intended to hold confit, which are fruit preserves or jams. Confit pots are shaped of earthenware and glazed yellow or green.

A console refers to a table fixed to a wall and supported by two front legs only. Usually distinguished by a convex curve defining the front and inward curving legs, which are sometimes joined by a stretcher. The term refers less specifically to any table with an undecorated back, intended for placement against a wall. Consoles first appear in Roman furniture and then later in Europe during the Middle Ages. They can be simple pieces but are more often seen in decorative form with marble tops, carved bases and gilt.

Literally, half-moon; a smaller table shaped in a half circle, the flat side intended to back against a wall, as with the console. A flip top with pull out support opens the table top into a full circle.

An enfilade is most easily explained as an extra-long buffet. It extends in length to house three to four doors and an interior shelf. Drawers can also be figured into the design. Enfilades were favored in 18th -19th century France.

 

The decorative metal plate that surrounds a keyhole and serves to prevent wear around edges of the cut wood. Used since the Middle Ages, the term also applies to the pivoting metal plate that sometimes covers the keyhole. Wrought iron was the most commonly used material and can be quite ornate. Brass, a softer metal, was also employed and images such as anchors, silhouettes and religious symbols were stamped into the escutcheons. The choice of images personalized the armoire.

 

The past tense of gilding. A gilt piece can be made of wood, metal, plaster or glass and has been applied with gold leaf or powder. Other metals can be applied such as silver and copper alloys. To be gilt, the surface must be carefully prepared with an appropriate primer. The gold leaf (or other metal) is then applied in thin sheets and pounced or burnished to a high luster. There are examples of gilding throughout history from the Egyptians to the Greeks to present day. Most contemporary wares have been gilt with a lesser blend of gold paint. Bronze has been substituted in many cases as a less costly alternative to gold.

Ornamental candleholder with branching arms that radiate out from the base of stone, marble, bronze or other metal. Popular in the second half of the 18th century in France and England, the girandole was a showy decorative display, frequently enhanced with crystals. It takes its name from a radiate form, such as fireworks and from the Italian, “girare” meaning, “to turn”. The term also refers to a more rare wall sconce, considered a luxury item, large and elaborate with mirrored backing to reflect candlelight.

Monochromatic paintings in shades of gray, imitate stone relief in a Classical style. Grisaille has a long history. Fifteenth century Flemish painters, in particular, used a highly sculptural, three-dimensional style. By the late 18th century, grisaille was used on walls and ceilings to imitate Classical friezes. With the invention of special enamels, the Limoges school created a style of grisaille that produced dramatic effects in lighting and three-dimensionality. The Panicaud family is the most noted practitioner of this technique.

A tall, deep, standing cabinet for a gentleman’s clothing and haberdashery. Country French in character with a refined look, the l’ homme debout has two doors divided by a drawer.

A gold colored alloy of copper (usually at least 50%), zinc and sometimes tin in various proportions. It is used for mounts (borders, edges, angle guards) for furniture and boxes, sconces and chandeliers. The earliest ormolu appears to have been produced in France, mid-17th century, which remains the center of manufacture. First a model is made in wood or wax, then a mold formed into which the molten alloy is poured. The cast piece is then chased (ornamented with indentations and etched details) and finally gilt. A faux ormolu treatment is a brushed-on paste made from powdered gold mixed with mercury. When fired, the mercury evaporates, leaving a gold deposit, which is then burnished.

A decorative, country French wooden cabinet for storing bread. Characteristics of the pannetiere are carved spindles across the front and sides and finely carved detailing, reminiscent of the Provencal region. The pannetiere is carved with four legs; however, it’s intended to be hung on a wall. This was an effective method for keeping rodents, etc. away from breads and perishables.

A large wooden trough with the front and back slanting inward, convening at center bottom. Legs elevate the piece from the floor and the lid lifts free of the base. The petrin was used for kneading and holding dough. From the root word, “petri”, meaning kneaded or molded.

Rush plants are of flowering aquatic variety with long, cylindrical stems. The pliable stems are woven to form seats and seat backs for French furniture, mostly in the less formal, country style. Green when fresh, rush dries to a neutral color and is very durable. Rush was first used in ancient cultures for weaving baskets and then for seat making in the Middle Ages.

The art of hammering a thin plate of brass from the underside so that the decoration projects outward, thereby creating a scene in relief.

A wooden or metal bracket designed to hold candles and hang from a wall. Carved wooden sconces can be painted or gilt and metal ones are made of wrought iron or bronze that patina with age. One of the earliest light fixture forms for domestic and public use, sconces first appear in classical antiquity. Variations and refinements were made in the 17th century, such as mirrored backs to reflect light. As more attention was given to interior design, sconces evolved stylistically to suit their environment. Most notably during the Rococo period, sconces were heavily ornamented with crystals. Citizens of a higher social standing enjoyed the largest and most elaborate pieces, this rare style being referred to as girandoles.

A seat with back and arm rests designed for two or more that came into use in the 17th century as a more comfortable alternative to the settle, a Gothic furniture form. (The settle is a bench with a paneled back and sides.) The settee is most often softly upholstered with fabric, anticipating the 18th century sofa. Variations in backs and armrests created a number of styles such as the chaise longue, day bed and the chesterfield, which is large, heavily stuffed and button tufted. A more elaborate style, the hall settee, featured an upholstered seat and highly carved back. The piece was then paired with matching chairs and placed in a hall or gallery.

Tortoise shell or wooden box with a hinged lid and one or two compartments for holding tea. During the 17th and 18th centuries, tea was a valuable commodity and as evidence of this, most caddies have locks. Eighteenth century caddies were made with silver, cooper, brass, pewter, shell and ivory. Around 1780 the price of tea lowered and so larger caddies were made of more common materials such as wood. The term was first applied to porcelain jars filled with tea and exported from China.

Literally translated as ” arched glass”, a trumeau is a mirror set within a decorative, painted panel. The panels became more decorative during the Baroque period with carved and gilded ornamentation. The Louis XV period saw paintings on canvas set within a frame, above the mirror. Most trumeaus were built into wall panels and were functional in that the mirrors reflected the natural light or candlelight. A room such as a ballroom would have had several trumeaus lining the walls.

A tall, two-piece, 18th – 19th century French furniture form consisting of a set of open shelves, which sits on a buffet base. The shelves are shallow in depth and have railings that extend the width of the piece behind which plates may rest, facing outward for display.

A French display cabinet with glass set into a carved paneled door and shelves on which to display porcelains, figurines, etc.

A small, round or slightly oval table for use in the wine cellar. The top is hinged so that it may flip up or down, flush with the table base. The practicality of the table is ideal for wine cellars as space is often limited in these quarters. With the top tilted down, the table can easily be stored along a wall.