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Antiques Glossary - V

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Author: Jim Coyle

  • Val'Saint-Lambert, Cristalleries du
    The principal glass factory in Belgium, founded on the site of a monastery near Liege in 1825. At first it produced English-style glassware, but later manufactured its own designs of art glass in art nouveau and art deco styles.
  • Vambrace
    See armour.
  • Van Cleef & Arpels
    Firm of jewellers founded in Paris, 1906, noted for a style of setting stones without the metal holds showing (known as invisibly set). The firm also introduced the minaudi?re for women - a decorative metal box with sections for such items as make-up, comb, money and cigarettes.
  • van de Velde, Henri
    (1863-1957) Belgian designer and architect, an influential practitioner and teacher of art nouveau style, and a founder of the design group deutscher werkbund. He designed simple but elegant, sparsely decorated furniture, with parallel curves earlier and elongated angular shapes later, as well as porcelain for meissen, jewellery, and metalwork.
  • vandyke rim
    Scalloped border on glassware or ceramics, named after the pointed lace collars seen in portraits of the English court by the Flemish artist Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641).
  • vargueno
    19thC term for a Spanish 16th to 17th-century drop-front desk resting on a chest or trestle stand and with elaborate inlaid decoration.
  • Varnish
    Transparent, oil or spirit-based liquid giving a hard, clear surface layer. Expensive furniture may have ten or more layers of resin dissolved in spirit, each coat being dried and polished before the next application. Cheaper furniture may have only two or three coats, with no polishing in between. Varnishing was used from the late 17thC while french polishing appeared about 1820. Today, varnish has been largely superseded by polyurethane lacquer and cellulose finishes. Oil-based varnish is used for pictures.
  • vase carpets
    Term for Persian carpets made using a triple weft technique. In each set of three wefts, the outer threads were of wool and pulled taut, and the middle one was of silk or cotton and slack. This altered the overall tension of the weave and resulted in a more durable fabric. It was used for a wide range of different designs, including those with a vase or vases within the field pattern and garden carpets.
  • Vauxhall
    Porcelain works operating 1751-64, the fourth main London factory of the period after chelsea, Bow and Limehouse. A soapstone soft-paste porcelain formula was used for products ranging from tea wares, candlesticks and snuffboxes to chamber pots and flowerpots. Decoration was mainly Chinese-style blue and white, often similar to delftware produced at nearby lambeth, but there were also some high-quality hand-painted designs, and - a Vauxhall speciality - outlines transfer-printed in two or three colours and then overpainted with enamel colours.
  • veilleuse
    French for 'night light', and used in the 18th and 19th centuries for a device to keep broth or a drink warm on the bedside table. The flame from a small oil lamp or candle, placed in the cylindrical base, heated a covered cup or a teapot set on top of a cylinder.
  • vellum
    Fine parchment made from calf, lamb or kid skin used for the pages and binding of early books.
  • velvet
    A costly, dense-pile fabric originally of cotton or linen with a silk pile. It is woven with two warps (two sets of lengthwise threads), the second warp being looped and cut with wire to form the pile. In figured velvet, the design is formed by leaving some areas of the pile uncut. In pile-on-pile velvet, the length of the pile is varied, or some areas are left free of pile. Velvet was first imported into Britain from Italy in the 14thC. Then in the late 17thC it was used as an upholstery fabric on furniture for the well-to-do. By the early 18thC velvet was being produced at spitalfields silk factories. In the 20thC most velvet has been woven from man-made yarn or a mixture of natural and man-made fibres.
  • veneer
    A thin layer of decorative wood, or sometimes tortoiseshell or ivory, glued over a wooden body or carcass. Veneering was practised in ancient Egypt, Greece and the Roman Empire, and rediscovered in the early 17thC.The craft came to Britain from Holland a few decades later, and by the 18thC French and British cabinet-makers had raised it to a fine art. They cut woods such as walnut, satinwood and rosewood to make fullest possible use of grain and colour. The thickness of a veneer depends on the quality of the wood and how it is cut; generally 18thC hand-sawn veneers are 1/16in (1.6 mm) thick; 19thC circular saw veneers, 1/32in (0.8 mm) thick, and the veneers produced by the machine-powered tools of the late 19thC are thinner still. See burr.
  • Venetian glass
    Venice has been an influential centre of glass production since c. ad 450, although the glasshouses moved from the city itself to the nearby island of Murano c. 1290. Early wares were opaque, including beakers and beads, but with the development of clear cristallo in the 15thC, Venetian glass came to dominate the European market. Elegant wine glasses with elaborate surface decoration (fa?on de Venise) were particularly popular, and were widely copied throughout Europe. Venetian glass-makers led the field in making vividly coloured glassware, and played an important part in developing millefiori and latticing techniques. When lead crystal, with its greater strength and clarity, began to be developed in Britain in the late 17thC, the Venetian glass industry went into decline, but was revived in the late 19thC.
  • Venini, Paolo
    (1895-1959) Foremost modern Italian designer of glass, with his own factory at Murano from 1925. His designs combine rich colour and texture with simple lines, and sometimes incorporating techniques such as millefiori and latticing. A celebrated design was a free-form bowl resembling the folds of a cupped handkerchief.
  • verdigris
    A green powdery deposit which develops on copper, brass or bronze after long periods of exposure to air. Unlike the gradual oxidisation process that forms a desirable patina, verdigris is dreaded by coin and medal collectors in particular, as it is very difficult to treat on small objects.
  • verge escapement
    See escapement.
  • vermicule
    Patterned with a mass of little worm-like lines; a decoration developed for s?vres c. 1750.
  • verneh
    A distinctive type of strong, flat-weave rug originating in the southern Caucasus. See sumakh.
  • vernier scale
    A short, sliding scale attached to the main scale on some instruments and barometers in the 19th and 20th centuries to make minute readings possible. The scale was invented 1631 by French mathematician Paul Vernier.
  • vernis martin
    A decorative technique which reproduced the effect of Chinese lacquer. Patented by Frenchman Guillaume Martin (after whom it was named) and his brothers in the 18thC, it was the French and Swiss version of japanning. The lustrous, translucent finish used up to 30 coats of coloured, monochrome or gold-dusted varnish. Vemis martin was used to decorate objects of vertu, ?tuis and furniture.
  • verre craquel?
    See ice glass.
  • Verre de Soie
    See pearl satin-glass
  • verre ?glomis?
    Glass with gilded decoration that is not fired onto the surface but protected by varnish or metal foil. The gilt surface could be engraved with a fine needle point. The technique dates from ancient Rome, was revived in the Middle Ages, and again in the 18thC by Paris art dealer Jean-Baptiste Glomy, after whom the process is now named.
  • Verzelini, Jacopo
    (1522-1616) Venetian glass-maker who came to Britain in 1571 and was granted a 21-year monopoly in 1574 to make glass in the Venetian style.
  • vesta case
    Case or box for ?vestas? - the friction matches of wax or wood that preceded the safety match. The cases were produced from the second half of the 19thC usually in silver and other metals, but also in a variety of materials such as porcelain and papier-m?ch?. Pocket-sized and larger table versions were made later, often in novelty shapes.
  • vetro a fili reticello
    See latticing.
  • Victorian era
    ueen Victoria's reign (1837-1901) during which taste was much influenced by the rising middle classes.
  • Vienna
    Innovative porcelain factory founded 1719 which produced hard-paste porcelain soon after meissen. Early pieces are high baroque with painted chinoiserie, flower or landscape decoration. In 1744 the factory was taken over by the state and produced Meissen-style rococo figures and tableware. In the late 18thC Vienna produced simple, neoclassical pieces with gilding and landscapes and portraits painted in panels on a brilliantly coloured ground, and Classical figures in biscuit porcelain. The factory began to decline from the late 1820s, finally closing in 1864. Throughout the 19thC the Vienna shield mark was much used by other factories and decorating workshops copying the Vienna style, hence the widespread use of inverted commas - 'Vienna' - to denote the origin of such pieces in cataloguing.
  • Vienna regulator
    Originally a highly accurate, weight-driven and pendulum-regulated wall clock, like a small, elegant longcase clock, with a glass-panelled case. The clocks were first made in Vienna from the early 19thC, but c. 1860 versions of much inferior quality were mass-produced in Germany for the European and US markets. The Viennese examples, made during the biedermeier period (1815-45), commonly have restrained rectilinear cases with pedimented tops; later German types are fussier in style, with a profusion of turned ornament.
  • Vienna Secession
    A group of artists and designers who, influenced by the rectilinear, vertical designs of Scottish architect-designer Charles Rennie mackintosh and the glasgow school, broke away from the artistic establishment in Vienna. Two leading figures, Josef Hoffmann and Kolomon Moser, went on to establish the wiener werkst?tte.
  • vignette
    1 Decoration of vine leaves and bunches of grapes, used in medieval carvings and fashionable again for friezes on furniture in neoclassical style. 2 Picture or decoration (on porcelain, for example) whose edges fade into the surround instead of having a sharply defined border.
  • Vile & Cobb
    (1751 -64) Cabinet-making partnership between William Vile (c.1700-67) and John Cobb (c.1715-78). Their furniture was noted for its consistently excellent workmanship, although it was overshadowed by Thomas chippendale's output. Vile, the senior partner in the firm, was in 1761 appointed cabinet-maker to the royal household by King George III, for whom he produced some of the finest English furniture in rococo style, using rare woods and delicate marquetry decoration.
  • vinaigrette
    Small, gilt-lined metal box designed to hold a sponge soaked in spiced vinegar or aromatic oil, and held in place by a grille. The aroma was inhaled when the hinged lid was raised, to fend off foul smells or to revive swooning ladies. Vinaigrettes became popular and fashionable items from the late 18thC until the end of the 19thC.
  • violet wood
    See rosewood.
  • vitrine
    A display cabinet with glass doors or lid and often glazed sides as well, in which small items of interest such as coins or fossils were kept. Vitrines were introduced in the second half of the iSthC and reproduced later in the 19thC. Towards the end of the 19thC the vitrine table, with a lined display compartment and glass top and sides, was introduced.
  • Vitruvian
    scroll See decorative motifs.
  • voider
    An early form of tray, used for clearing scraps from the dining table in the 17thC, that evolved into the butler's tray.
  • volcanic glass
    See lava glass.
  • volute
    A decorative coil - as for example on ornamental handles on pottery and at the ends of the horizontal comb-piece topping some windsor chair backs. It was copied from the coils near the top of an Ionic column in Classical architecture.
  • voyeuse
    Low-seated chair for sitting astride with the elbows resting on the padded top of the back - while watching card games for example. It was first made in France in the mid- 18thC. A similar chair for ladies to kneel on (since they could not sit astride with modesty) is called a voyeuse ? genoux.
  • Voysey, C.F.A.
    (1857-1941) British architect and designer who believed in functional design, and was associated with the art furniture movement. He was also influenced by the purist ideas of William morris and the arts and crafts movement. His best furniture was produced 1895-1910, and he designed wallpapers and fabrics. Voysey influenced both art nouveau style and the development of industrial design.
  • vulcanite
    Hard, black material made by heating rubber with sulphur and used to simulate jet in jewellery and for some early fountain pens. It is also known as ebonite.
  • Vulliamy family
    Three generations of a clock-making family of Swiss origin working in London c. 1750-1854. Justin (c. 1730-90), Benjamin (1747-1811) and Benjamin Lewis (1780-1854) made longcase, bracket, and mantel carriage clocks. Benjamin Lewis had the unfortunate tendency to replace the original movements of clocks sent in for repair with his own new movements.

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