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date: 14 November 2019



Ornamental tablet or shield bearing an inscription, monogram or heraldic arms framed in elaborate scrolls, shell-shaped volutes or similar devices. The term has been extended to include the lozenge-shaped frames inscribed with the names of pharaohs in Egyptian hieroglyphs. The cartouche was a minor ornament in the vocabulary of European Renaissance and Mannerist design. Used in both ecclesiastical and secular contexts, it adorned exterior and interior walls and furniture (e.g. cassone with shield cartouche flanked by putti, carved wood and gilt, Roman, mid-16th century; London, V&A). It also embellished manuscripts and prints, used as a motif to enclose titles and brief texts, notably in architectural elevations and maps (see Map).

The use of the cartouche developed more fully in the Baroque era, however, and in its more opulent 17th-century form it spread rapidly as a decorative device throughout Europe and eventually to the New World. It became the dramatic focus of pedimental designs above façades, doorframes and windows, as well as in chimney-pieces, keystones and balconies. Deeply carved in stone, marble and wood or in cast plaster or stucco, its commonly shared characteristics were lavish back or forward scrolls resembling parchment or a profusion of scrolling plant forms. Shields were frequently surmounted by crowns or mantled helmets and flanked by figures, animals or birds and heavy floral swags (e.g. shield cartouche flanked by ostriches, carved and painted wood, façade, ...

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