Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Word of the day: CURULE

By now you know that my favorite antique terms are those designed to confuse, obfuscate, and otherwise drive normal people crazy.

That's why I like the word "curule" so much. First, it's weird to pronounce: "Q rule." Second, it's defined as "the same thing as a faldstool and the same thing as a ployant." Well, that's just great and thanks for nothing. Antiquarians can be a cruel lot.

So let's get real here: a curule, a faldstool, and a ployant are all words for a portable stool that usually (but not always) folds up and has X-shaped legs with no back. Here's a nice Louis XIV curule:

BTW, faldstool is pronounced "FALD stool" and ployant is pronounced "PLOY ahn."

And here's a 19th century English cast brass one:

Some people say that faldstools are used most commonly when referring to ecclesiastical curules. Years ago, that was true but nowadays that's pure baloney. In fact, people in the trade frequently say faldstool for ANY folding stool.

What's not baloney is that curules, faldstools and ployants can be very simple or extremely ornate. Take a gander at all of these (some modern, some reproductions and some antiques):

But what about curules, etc. at C. Mariani Antiques (where I work)? I wouldn't be true to this blog if I didn't put in a plug for myself. After all, I'm nothing if not self-serving. Here's a fab pair of palazzo scaled 19th c. Italian ployants (they measure 25 1/2"h x 30"w x 24" d-so when I sit on them my feet dangle 3" off the ground):

And for those of you who prefer that their feet actually reach the floor, I have this French Empire pair:

Call me for details-415 541 7868.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I should start by saying that "ideata" is NOT the Italian word for idiot. That would be "idiota" and I should know: in my flaming youth (!), I was thrown out of some of the finest restaurants in Rome for being a drunken idiota. So I'm an expert on this.

Relevant message from the Ad Council: Please drink responsibly.

Relevant message from The Buzz: Forget beer bongs...I'm not sure what they are but they sound like the first step to hard drugs and a life of ruin.

And speaking of ruins, that's what you typically see in capriccio and veduta ideata...but more on that in a second. For now, take a look at this example and see if you can guess what this genre is:

A capriccio (pronounced "ka PREE chee oh") is a painting that contains dreamlike or fantastical scenes. They most typically depict people frolicking among Roman classical ruins like this:

A "veduta ideata" (literally meaning an idealized view and pronounced "veh doo TAH - ee day AH tah") is exactly the same thing as a capriccio. They're synonyms.

Other things to note: The plural for capriccio is capprici (ka PREE chee) and they are sometimes called "caprice" (ka PREE chay) but I don't use that term. The plural for veduta ideata is vedute ideata ("veh DO tay - ee day AH tah") but again that's pretty esoteric. Here's another example of this genre:

Finally, just to cover all the bases on these terms, a capriccio is also a MUSICAL term meaning a lively and free form piece of music, AND the name of an obscure 1942 German opera that you'll never see, AND also certain chamber music compositions.

Another factoid: these paintings came into vogue in 17th and 18th century Italy and the painters who created them were called "vedutisti", pronounced "veh doo TEES tee". Caution: "vedutisti" could be "very testy" (not unlike other fine artists).

And another fact: the most important vedutisti were Canaletto, Paninni, the Guardi family, and Piranesi. Here's a famous Canaletto:

And here's a Piranesi (note that capriccio can be a print as well as a painting):

Friday, February 12, 2010


First a bit of musical history: in 1985, David Lee Roth scored a major hit with his recording of "Just a Gigolo." Not a milestone in musical history but quite an accomplishment for someone born to be a lounge act:

Even more amazing, everyone thought this recording was something of a musical rarity because it was surprisingly innovative and original (a great feat for any lounge lizard).

But I found the whole thing sad because people said the same thing 30 years earlier when an older lounge lizard named Louis Prima (pronounced "LOU ee PREE mah") recorded the exact same song with the exact same arrangement. So Roth just ripped off Prima:

Hmmmmm. So was it Louis Prima then who was the real innovator with "Just a Gigolo"?? Nope. The real innovator was Betty Boop (!) who sang "Gigolo" her way in a 1932 cartoon of the same name. My conclusion: Prima ripped off Boop before Roth ripped off Prima.

But what does this have to do with antiques? Actually very little. But it reminded me that my esoteric antique term for today is "GIGLIO", a word that most people mistake for "GIGOLO" and therefore mispronounce it "JIG-oh-loh". But there's a big difference.

A gigolo is well, um, just a gigolo. That is, he's an escort for ladies with too much money and too little companionship. See the movie "American Gigolo" with Richard Gere for a good demo of what a gigolo was in 1980:

A giglio, on the other hand, is pronounced "JEE-lee-oh" (because the letters "gl" in Italian are pronounced like the "ll" in the word "million"). And what is a giglio? A giglio is an ornamental motif that resembles a fleur de lys and looks like this:

This decorative element often appears on cartouches, coats of arms, leatherwork, gold charms and antiques relating to the city of Florence because it's the symbol for that city. It even appears on the Florentine flag and can be traced back to the time of the Roman foundations of ancient Florentia.

The giglio is based on the shape of a flower that's kind of a cross between a lily and an iris. It differs from the fleur de lys because it sprouts two extra pistols between its leaves. Compare it to the classic fleur de lys (symbol of the Bourbon kings of France) shown here:

And now you know....

Friday, February 5, 2010

Antique Terminolgy: GIRANDOLES

Girandole (pronounced JEER-on-dole) can mean one of three different things:
  • A candelabra with multiple ornamental branches;
  • An elaborate wall bracket/sconce that's very ornate with one or more branches and often incorporating a mirror to reflect the light;
  • Or, in jewelry, an earring or broach that's very foofy;
And here's what each one looks like:

First, a pair of girandole candelabra (note the ornate candle arms also called branches):

Second, a girandole wall sconce (note how elaborate it is and also how the mirror serves to reflect the light from the candles-pretty clever, huh?). This one is Adams style, 18th century English:

Girandole wall sconces like this one were objects of luxury and typically were intricately carved and gilded. Although the name is Italian, girandole brackets reached thief height in popularity in England and France in the second half od the 18th c.

And third, a set of girandole (also called "chandelier") earrings-these type of earrings became widely popular in the 1600's and 1700's and remain popular to this day:

See how these girandole earrings look like little chandeliers and hence the name!

Monday, February 1, 2010


A while back I did a post on scagliola and its "kissin' cousin," pietra dura. But a couple of people asked me to expand on these topics. Why? I have no idea but I'm happy to oblige:

Let's start with scagliola. You’d think it would be pronounced “SCAG-lee-oh-lah”. But isn't that what the boys in high school used to call the ugly girls? Kids can be so cruel.

Actually, scagliola has nothing to do with high school beauty and it's correctly pronounced: "skal YOE luh". It kind of rolls off your tongue like the Castilian pronunciation of salsa: “THAL tha”.

But what does scagliola mean if it’s not a chip dip?

Scagliola is an Italian decorative technique of faux-painting that imitates the inlaid marble and stone artform known as pietra dura (pronounced PYAY-trah DOO-rah).

Pietra dura is the technique of inlaying different semi-precious and hard stones to create a ultra-durable surface that's used as tabletops and for numerous types of decorative panels. Different marbles, onyx, porphyry and lapis lazuli were often utilized in pietra dura.

Unlike pietra dura, which is essentially a jigsaw puzzle in stones, scagliola is a painted technique, most typically applied to a solid slate surface.

The “paint” used in scagliola is made of crushed selenite, marble, plaster of Paris, and animal sizing (i.e., glue) which fuses to the slate when dry to create a beautiful and durable finish. CAVEAT: Unlike pietra dura, scagliola will NOT hold up over time if put outside and exposed to the elements-it’s durable but not THAT durable.

Although scagliola was conceived as a less costly alternative to pietra dura, antique examples of it today often fetch prices comparable to the inlaid stone technique. Strange but true.

Here is real pietra dura:

And here is scagliola imitating pietra dura:

This scagliola looks like real inlaid stone, doesn’t it?! But it’s actually faux-painted trompe l’oreil (pronounced “trump LOY” or more correctly “trump LU[r-yuh]" and meaning a “trick on the eye,” where the painting looks like something else in a very realistic manner).

One more thing about pietra dura: when you see a table that displays a wide variety of different stones in a geometric (and often radial) pattern, it’s called a “specimen table.” Here’s a specimen table top:

And here's another specimen table:

Specimen tables are aptly named because the first ones were created by stone masons and artists to show off the different semi-precious and hard stone selections that they had to offer. But later, these tables became popular just for their decorative beauty.