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).

1 comment:

Vickie H. said...

Interesting and enlightening. I am sure your parental units were was a different time back then! I think you turned out OK from what I can tell on this blog! I think it is so rare that one comes packaged with supreme intelligence, a side-splitting sense of humor and obscene good looks! You are the whole ball of wax, my dear! And tell your "friend" who inquired that it is very impolite to ask the cost in such a personal transaction! Just tell him we are BOTH getting our money's worth!!! LOL!!!