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ACANTHUS:
A Mediterranean plant, Acanthus spinosus, with fleshy scalloped leaves. From antiquity, it was widely used for carved ornament, such as decorative moldings, and Corinthian and Composite capitals. In the 18th century, it was a popular motif for furniture and metalwork.

 acanthus motif on gv423 pedestal

ANTHEMION:
With origins in ancient Greece and Rome, this is a fanlike decorative motif resembling the honeysuckle leaf and flower. It was used as a repeated motif for banding on Neoclassical friezes and cornices toward the end of the 18th century.

 

APRON:
The frieze rail of a table, the base of the framework of a piece of case furniture, or a shaped, sometimes carved, piece of wood beneath the seat rail of a chair. It is also known as a skirt.

apron from 1096 italian table 

ARABESQUE:
Stylized foliage arranged in a swirling, interlaced pattern and combining flowers and tendrils with spirals and zigzags. It originated in the Middle East and was popular in Europe until the early 17th century.

 

ARMOIRE:
A French term for a storage cupboard for clothing and household linen. It usually has two large doors and interior shelving.

 

BALLFOOT:
A round, turned foot used on oak and walnut case furniture and chairs during the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

 

BALUSTER:
A short post or pillar, such as a table leg, or one in a series supporting a rail and forming a balustrade. Usually bulbous in shape, the form was inspired by Classical vases and has been used since the Renaissance.

 

BANDING:
A decorative strip of veneer in a contrasting wood. Generally used around the edge of drawer fronts, table tops, and panels. With crossbanding, the contrasting wood runs at right angles to the main veneer. In feather, or herringbone banding, two narrow stirps of contrasting veneer run diagonally in opposite directions, thus forming a chevron pattern.

 banding on feathered mahogany table top

BEADING:
A decorative Neoclassical border, often used on case furniture, which has applied or embossed beads of the same size used in a single row, or alterating with elongated beads, in which case it is known as bead and reel.

 

BEECH WOOD:
A strong European hard wood, commonly used in Italy for furniture framing and for the construction table pedestals and chairs.

 beech wood stacked and ready for production

BOISERIE:
A French term for wood paneling elaborately carved with foliage, then painted and gilded. It was fashionable in the wealthy residences of France in the 17th and early 18th centuries, and was often complemented with furniture of a matching design.

 

BOMBE:
A French term used to describe a chest with swelling, convex sides. The term is usually applied to case furniture, such as commodes. The style was popular during the Regency period in early-18th-century France.

 bombe (or bombay) chest

BOULLE MARQUETRY:
A technique named after Andre-Charles Boulle that involves the elaborate inlay of brass into tortoiseshell or ebony and vice versa. The process was applied to high-qualityfurniture, usually made in matching pairs, from the late 17th century onward.

 

BUFFET:
A French term for large, heavy display cupboard with open shelves, used for displaying silverware in the 16th and 17th centuries.

 iris italian buffet (sideboard)

BUREAU:
A French term for a fall-front or cylinder-top writing desk.

 drop front bureau

CABRIOLE LEG:
A furniture leg with two curves forming an attenuated S-shape, like an animal leg. Popular in the early 18th century, it was often used on chairs and terminated in a claw-and-ball or stylized paw foot.

 cabriole leg

CARTOUCHE:
A panel or tablet in the form of a scroll with curled edges, sometimes bearing an inscription, monogram, or coat of arms, and used as a decorative feature.

 

CASSONE:
An Italian term for a low chest or coffer made in Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries.

 

CHINOISERIE:
A decorative style, popular in the early 18th century, in which fanciful, exotic motifs derived from Chinese originals were applied to European furniture.

 

COMMODE:
A French term for a chest with deep drawers. The form was first seen in the late 17th century.

 

CONSOLE TABLE:
A table that has two legs supporting its front, while its back legs are spread out wider and up against a wall for support.

marconi 827 console table 

CORNICE:
A decorative, molded projection that crowns a piece of furniture, particularly tall cupboards or display cabinets.

 

C-SCROLL:
A decorative, carved or applied Classical ornament in the shape of a C, developed during the Rococo period.

 

DENTIL PATTERN:
An ornamental feature of Classical architecture, dentils are small rectangular blocks, resembling teeth, that run beneath a cornice.

 

DOVETAIL:
A joint, used from the end of the 17th century, in which two pieces of wood are joined together at right angles. Each piece of wood has a row of fan-shaped teeth, which interlock at the joint.

 dovetail joinery

DOWEL:
A small, headless wooden pin used in furniture construction to join two pieces of wood. Each piece of wood to be joined has a round hole, the size of the dowel, into which the dowel is inserted and glued.

 

ESCUTCHEON:
A protective and usually ornamental keyhole plate, which is sometimes in the shape of a shield.

 

FALL FRONT:
The hinged, flat front of a desk or bureau that falls forward to form a writing surface. It is also sometimes known as a drop front.

 

FLUTING:
Parallel lines of shallow, concave molding running from the top to the bottom of a column, the opposite of reeding. Fluting was frequently used on table legs in Neoclassical furniture.

 

FRIEZE:
A Classical term used to describe the horizontal strip that supports a table top, or the cornice on a piece of case furniture.

 

GILDING:
A decorative finish in which gold is applied to wood, leather, silver, ceramics, or glass. The process involves laying gold leaf or powdered gold (or silver) onto a base, such as gesso. Parcel gilding is the term used when only part of the object has been gilded.

 hand applying gold leaf

GILTWOOD:
Wood that has been gilded.

 

GROTESQUE:
A type of ornament, popular during the Renaissance, in which real and mythical beasts, human figures, flowers, scrolls, and candelabra were linked together. often in vertical panels.

 

GUILLOCHE:
A decorative motif that takes the form of a continuous band of strands that are twisted or braided together. First seen in Classical architecture, the motif was popular with Neoclassical designers.

 

INTARSIA:
First used in the 14th century, this is an Italian term for a pictorial type of marquetry. It was often used for decorative paneling on furniture in Renaissance Itally and 16-century Germany.

 instarsia on marconi chest

JAPANNING:
A decorative technique, dating from the 17th century, in which furniture is coated with layers of colored varnish in imitation of true Chinese or Japanese lacquer.

 

LACCA POVERA:
An Italian term, meaning 'poor man's lacquer' that describes a form of decoupage, in which sheets of engravings were colored, cut, and pasted onto the prepared surface of a piece of furniture, then varnished to produce a high-gloss finish. The technique originated in Venice in the 1750s.

 

LION'S-PAW FOOT:
A leg terminal carved in the shape of a lion's paw, a popular Regency and Empire motif.

 

LYRE MOTIF:
A Neoclassical motif based on the ancient Greek musical instrument and used as an ornamental shape or decoration for chair backs and table supports.

 

MAPLE:
A European hardwood, pale in color, which was used in marquetry during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was sometimes stained black to resemble ebony, a much more expensive wood.

 

MARQUETRY:
A decorative veneer made up of shaped pieces of wood in different colors that are pieced together to form a pattern or picture. The technique was perfected by the Dutch, who produced fine examples of floral marquetry during the 16th century. In seaweed marquetry, used on chests of drawers and cabinets in the late 17th century, richly figured timbers, such as holly and boxwood, were used to create a seaweed effect.

 handmade marquetry

MEDALLION:
An ornamental relief set within a circualr or oval frame.

 

OCCASIONAL TABLE:
A small table that can be used for different purposes and moved from room to room.

 italian occasional (side) table

ORMOLU:
An English term derived from the French term or moulu, meaning 'ground gold' denoting a process of gilding bronze for decorative mounts.

 

PALLADIAN:
A restrained Classical style of architecture and decorative features that was derived from the works of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio.

 

PEGGED JOINT:
A joint in which two pieces of wood are held together by pegs driven through drilled holes.

 

PIETRA DURA:
An Italian term for an expensive form of inlay using semiprecious stones, such as jasper and lapis lazuli, to create decorative panels for cabinets and table tops. First evident in Italy during the Renaissance, the technique was very popular during the 17th century.

 

ROSETTE:
Of ancient origin, this is a decorative motif in the shape of a rose, which is often used as a disc ornament or as a circular patera.

 

SCAGLIOLA:
A plasterlike substance, to which color pigments and small pieces of stone such as granite, marble, and alabaster are added so that once set, it can be polished to look like marble or pietra dura.

 

SECRETAIRE:
A French term for a freestanding writing cabinet. It often has a slim drawer beneath the top, and a fall-front writing surface. Below that, there is an arrangement of drawers or cupboards. The form was popular in France during the 18th century.

 Stella del Mobile secretaire

SERPENTINE:
A wavy or undulating surface. A commode with a serpentine front ahs a protruding central section and concave ends. Serpentine stretchers are curved cross-stretchers.

 

S-SCROLL:
A decorative carved or applied Classical ornament in the shape of an S, developed during the Rococo period.

 

TONGUE AND GROOVE:
A wood joint in which a tongue along one side of a strip of wood fits into a groove along an adjoining strip of wood.

 

VENEER:
A thin layer of fine wood that is applied to the surface of a more durable wood, for decorative effect. Veneers were widely used from the second half of the 17th century onward.
 

 veneer on table pedestal