Saturday, July 18, 2009

Antique Terminology: CARTOUCHE and GUILLOCHE

I've been racking my brain trying to come up with a couple of antique terms that I think are "essentials" to know but always give me fits when I try to use them in a sentence. And here they are: CARTOUCHE and GUILLOCHE.

Random musing: I wonder if I have some psychological blockage on them because of a couple of humiliating experiences I had during my somewhat odd childhood. Don't get me wrong, my folks were the greatest but their child-rearing skills sometimes bordered on the, how shall I put this, unorthodox.

Let's start with CARTOUCHE (pronounced "car TOOSH"). Here's one:

This word has always flummoxed me because when I was kid I was only allowed to call buttocks either "fannys" or "tooshies". Never but never was Baby Buzz allowed to utter words like "read ends", bums, butts, or derrieres: only fannys and/or tooshies were acceptable. And just FYI, "asses" were not even a remote possibility because they're farm animals at petting zoos and not something refined people talked about.

Now that I think about it, my family had a whole panoply of "polite" kiddie terms and phrases for practically every bodily function and anatomy part.

Here's an example of how this "polite" vocabulary system worked for me: I was instructed that instead of saying passing gas, I should quiety say, "Pardon me, but I just took "a tooshy-burp".

And, to add insult to injury, I actually called it that until junior high school when I finally connected the dots to the much more simple and elegant "Breaking Wind." Sounds like a lovely folk-song, don't you think? Yes, yes, everyone else just called them "farts" but let's not go there.

So I think that's one reason I mentally block the word "cartouche". The other reason is a little more obtuse but equally strange.

Let's start with remembering that Baby Buzz was taught that a rear-end was not really a rear-end but a fanny or a tooshy, right? Ok, so far, so weird.

But just when you think it can't get any stranger, Baby Buzz then finds out that, as fate would have it, BOTH of his grandmothers had exactly the same name: FANNY. You can imagine my confusion and humiliation when I had to introduce both of my Grandma's as "a coupla Fanny's". I still have the scars.

But what does a cartouche or Buzz's carthatic confessions, have to do with antiques? Actually, very little. But the term CARTOUCHE is important to know because it's a frequently seen motif that looks like an opening scroll or tablet, like this 18th century marble wall appliqué (pronounced "APP luh kay") of a family coat of arms:
The second term that gives me mental blockage is "guilloche," (pronounced "ghee YUSH" or "gi LOWSH", and both are fine).

I used to think this was how poor Marie Antoinette lost her head. But in reality, she owned many pieces of furniture and trinkets adorned with beautiful guilloche designs and not a single one harmed a hair on her chinny chin chin. Unfortunately the same can't be said of the guillotine (and by the way, Marie Antoinette never said "Let them eat cake." What she really said was "My feet are killing me but let those feet ache!" but sadly she was misunderstood in all the bedlam and the rest is histoire.

A GUILLOCHE is defined's hard to put into words. It's kind of a running ornamental form of interlaced curved lines. I know that means nothing to you but take a look at this drawing and you'll recognize the form-it's neoclassical:

And here's another guilloche, this one Romanesque and part of a castle wall in Ireland:

And this guilloche is punctuated with rosettes:

One final comment: the term guilloche is also used to describe an engraving technique perfected by Fabergé on his exquisite eggs and other vertu collectibles. These intricate metal engravings were overglazed with jewel-toned translucent enamels to heighten their visual effect. Here's an example:
And here's another: this one is a Faberge guilloche cigarette case (smoking kills but it might be worth it if you could owned something this beautiful...note to kids: that was a joke, don't smoke).

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Buzz on Antique Beds 101

I don't sell a lot of antique beds. Why is that?

Maybe I just stink at sales. But more likely, it's because:

1. Many antique beds were heavily upholstered or were built right into (and were part of) room paneling (called "boiserie" and pronounced "bwah zer REE"), and as a result, not that many genuine antique beds survive to this day; and
2. 18th c. and 19th c. antique beds were not built to our modern standard sizes (e.g., Eastern King, Cal King, Queen, etc.)--and very few people want to do custom matresses and linens.

And even fewer people are foolish enough to "chop" a perfectly good antique bed to conform to modern dimensions. That explains why our custom workshop is often tasked with creating antique-inspired bed reproductions. Here's a lacquered chinoiserie king bed we created:

Nonetheless, I get a lot of questions and requests for antique beds so it's probably worthwhile to cover them here.

You can best understand antique beds if you understand antique bed terminology:

Tester or baldacchino: a full canopy that may or may not be supported by posts

Half Tester: a half tester is a partial canopy above the headboard

Lit (pronounced "lee"): the word for bed in French
Lit à Colonnes (pronounced "ah coh LUN"): a four poster bed with a full canopy. Here's an example of an English Jacobean lit à colonnes

Lit à Couronne ("ah koo RUN"); a lit a bateau (boat bed) with a crown shaped canopy
Lit à la Duchesse ("ah la doo SHESS"): a bed introduced in the 17th c. with a low headboard
Lit à la Polonaise ("ah la puh low NEZ"): a bed where the head and feet are the same size

Lit à la Turque ("ah la TURK"): a bed placed horizontally against a wall

Lit d'Ange ("DAHNZH"): a bed with a tester but no posts (the tester floats like an "angel" over the bed)--the à la Turque bed above is also a lit d'Ange.
Lit de Anglais: ("dahn GLAY"): same as a lit à la Turque (see above)
Lit de Parade ("duh puh RAHD"): a bed with elaborate curtaining and canopy
Lit de Repos ("dur ruh POE"): a daybed

Lit en Bateau ("ahn ba TOE"): a boat shaped bed

Lit Jumeaux ("zhoo MOE")k: a twin bed