Monday, October 1, 2012


Meaning: people or animals in a painting who are not the subject of the painting, sometimes used as accessories to provide scale or setting.  Apparently in the nineteenth century there were books of them which you could "cut and paste" into your paintings of windswept-moor-with-tumbled-columns.

Usefulness: 1 (Besides being fun to say if you appropriately accent age, staffage provides an arty way to refer to stock photos, and of course the chance to sound impressive in art galleries, ironically or otherwise. It is also quite useful figuratively, particularly with its coincidental resemblance to staff: "In this meeting you only need attend to Mme Smith; the rest are merely staffage." "This pub is packed: shall we go somewhere with less staffage?" "The sheep are, of course, staffage - the real money is in the uranium deposits.")

Logofascination: 1 (It's a pseudo-French art word we stole from the Germans; a manufactured technical word which, etymologically, is probably just 'stuff'.)

In the wild: A note in a gallery (possibly in Vienna) referred to figural staffage, a romantic phrase which turned out to be a fancy way of saying 'those two tiny blokes in the bottom left-hand corner'.

Degrees: 2

Connections: staffage - stuff (via estoffer... probably)

Which is used in: G&P, First Book, LVI: How the men and women of the religious order of Theleme were apparelled. In fact stuff appears eighteen times in the three books Sir Thomas translated, but from what I can tell, only one of these is the French estoffer in the original text
"They were furnished with matter and stuff from the hands of the Lord Nausiclete*, who every year brought them seven ships from the Perlas** and Cannibal Islands***, laden with ingots of gold, with raw silk, with pearls and precious stones.  And if any margarites****, called unions, began to grow old and lose somewhat of their natural whiteness and lustre, those with their art they did renew by tendering them to eat to some pretty cocks, as they use to give casting unto hawks."

* Frame says this is Greek for 'famous for ships'
** the Pearl Islands off Venezuela - see below.
*** Probably the Caribbean for reasons explained here
**** Margarite is from the Greek for pearl - Rabelais uses union here, another classical name for a pearl, rather than perle, which he used earlier, possibly referring to one of larger size. Urquhart picks this up, but adds margarites, possibly as explanation.  One of the Perlas Islands referred to above was called Margarita.
And yes, he's suggesting that they fed the pearls to roosters - pretty ones, apparently - to make them white again. 

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