Cartouche (design)

Beaux Arts cartouche of Strada Doctor Dimitrie D. Gerota no. 9, Bucharest, Romania, c.1900, unknown architect

A cartouche (also cartouch) is an oval or oblong design with a slightly convex surface, typically edged with ornamental scrollwork. It is used to hold a painted or low-relief design.[1] Since the early 16th century, the cartouche is a scrolling frame device, derived originally from Italian cartuccia. Such cartouches are characteristically stretched, pierced and scrolling.

Another cartouche figures prominently in the 16th-century title page of Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, framing a minor vignette with a pierced and scrolling papery cartouche.

The engraved trade card of the London clockmaker Percy Webster shows a vignette of the shop in a scrolling cartouche frame of Rococo design that is composed entirely of scrolling devices.



Cartouches are found on buildings, funerary steles and sarcophagi. The cartouche is generally rectangular, delimited by a molding or one or more incised lines, with two symmetrical trapezoids on the lateral edges.


From the Renaissance to Art Deco[edit]

The Renaissance brought back elements of Greco-Roman culture, including ornaments like the cartouche. Compared to their ancient ancestors, the ones from the Renaissance are usually much more complex. Cartouches continue to be used in styles that succeed the Renaissance. Most have the usual look of a symmetrical oval with scrolls developed during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, but some are highly stylized, showing the diversity of styles popular over time. They were used constantly, and were one of the main motifs of Rococo and Beaux Arts architecture.

Their use started to fade in Art Deco, a style created as a collective effort of multiple French designers to make a new modern style around 1910. This is because of the fact that artists of this movement tried to create new ornaments for their time, most often stylizing motifs used before, or coming up with completely new ones. Art Deco also followed the principle of simplicity, another reason for the rarity of complex ornaments like cartouches or mascarons in Art Deco.

Postmodernism and Retro resuses[edit]

At the end of the WW2, with the rise in popularity of the International Style, characterized by the complete lack of any ornamentation, led to the complete abandonment of any ornaments, including cartouches.

They reappear later in some Postmodernism, a movement that questioned Modernism (the status quo after WW2), and which promoted the inclusion of elements of historic styles in new designs. An early text questioning Modernism was by architect Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966), in which he recommended a revival of the 'presence of the past' in architectural design. He tried to include in his own buildings qualities that he described as 'inclusion, inconsistency, compromise, accommodation, adaptation, superadjacency, equivalence, multiple focus, juxtaposition, or good and bad space.'[20] Venturi encouraged 'quotation', which means reusing elements of the past in new designs. Part manifesto, part architectural scrapbook accumulated over the previous decade, the book represented the vision for a new generation of architects and designers who had grown up with Modernism but who felt increasingly constrained by its perceived rigidities. Multiple Postmodern architects and designers put simplified reinterpretations of the elements found in Classical decoration on their creations. However, they were in most cases highly simplified, and more reinterpretations than true reuses of the elements intended. Because of their complexity, cartouches were extremely rarely used in Postmodern architecture and design.[21]

Cartouches enjoyed more popularity in Retro style of the 21st century, through designs inspired mainly by the 18th and 19th centuries.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ching, Francis D. K. (1995). A Visual Dictionary of Architecture. New York: John Wiley and Sons. p. 183. ISBN 0-471-28451-3.
  2. ^ Fullerton, Mark D. (2020). Art & Archaeology of The Roman World. Thames & Hudson. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-500-051931.
  3. ^ Eastmond, Anthony (2013). The Glory of Byzantium and early Christendom. Phaidon. p. 46. ISBN 978 0 7148 4810 5.
  4. ^ Eastmond, Anthony (2013). The Glory of Byzantium and early Christendom. Phaidon. p. 36. ISBN 978 0 7148 4810 5.
  5. ^ Irv Graham. "Longquan Ware Vase – The Percival David Collection". Retrieved 17 September 2023.
  6. ^ Robertson, Hutton (2022). The History of Art - From Prehistory to Presentday - A Global View. Thames & Hudson. p. 784. ISBN 978-0-500-02236-8.
  7. ^ "Tombeau du coeur de François Ier, roi de France". Retrieved 13 September 2023.
  8. ^ "Maison". Retrieved 13 September 2023.
  9. ^ Bresc-Bautier, Geneviève (2008). The Louvre, a Tale of a Palace. Musée du Louvre Éditions. p. 28. ISBN 978-2-7572-0177-0.
  10. ^ Hopkins 2014, p. 82.
  11. ^ Robertson, Hutton (2022). The History of Art - From Prehistory to Presentday - A Global View. Thames & Hudson. p. 870. ISBN 978-0-500-02236-8.
  12. ^ Irving, Mark (2019). 1001 BUILDINGS You Must See Before You Die. Cassel Illustrated. p. 217. ISBN 978-1-78840-176-0.
  13. ^ "Espace Bellechasse". Retrieved 27 August 2023.
  14. ^ Marinache, Oana (2019). ArhiTur - Bulevardul Colțea - Bulevardul Lascăr Catargiu (in Romanian). Editura Istoria Artei. p. 21.
  15. ^ Mariana Celac, Octavian Carabela and Marius Marcu-Lapadat (2017). Bucharest Architecture - an annotated guide. Ordinul Arhitecților din România. p. 90. ISBN 978-973-0-23884-6.
  16. ^ "Boulangerie". Retrieved 17 September 2023.
  17. ^ Croitoru-Tonciu, Monica (2022). Alfred Popper - 1874-1946 - (re)descoperirea unui arhitect (in Romanian). SIMETRIA. p. 30. ISBN 978-973-1872-51-3.
  18. ^ Woinaroski, Cristina (2013). Istorie urbană, Lotizarea și Parcul Ioanid din București în context european (in Romanian). SIMETRIA. p. 218. ISBN 978-973-1872-30-8.
  19. ^ Woinaroski, Cristina (2013). Istorie urbană, Lotizarea și Parcul Ioanid din București în context european (in Romanian). SIMETRIA. p. 205. ISBN 978-973-1872-30-8.
  20. ^ Watkin, David (2022). A History of Western Architecture. Laurence King. p. 660. ISBN 978-1-52942-030-2.
  21. ^ Hopkins 2014, p. 200, 203.
  22. ^ Hodge 2019, p. 47.

Works cited[edit]

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