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Jones, Owen, 1809-1874. / The grammar of ornament

Egyptian ornament,   pp. 19-25 ff.

Page 24

we here see that the Egyptians, in thus conventionally rendering the lotus
and papyrus, instinctively
obeyed the law which we find everywhere in the leaves of plants, viz. the
radiation of the leaves, and
all the veins on the leaves, in graceful curves from the parent stem; and
not only do they follow this law
in the drawing of the individual flower, but also in the grouping of several
flowers together, as may
be seen, not only in No. 4, but also in their representation of plants growing
in the desert, Nos. 16
and 18 of the same plate, and in No. 13.  In Nos. 9 and 10 of Plate V. they
learned the same lesson
from the feather, another type of ornament (1] and 12, Plate V.): the same
instinct is again at work
at Nos. 4 and 5, where the type is one of the many forms of palm-trees so
common in the country.
The third kind of Egyptian ornament, viz. that which is simply decorative,
or which appears so to
our eyes, but which has doubtless its own laws and reasons for its application,
although they are not
so apparent to us.  Plates VIII., IX., X., XI., are devoted to this class
of ornament, and are from
paintings on tombs, dresses, utensils, and sarcophagi.  They are all distinguished
by graceful symmetry
and perfect distribution. The variety that can be produced by the few simple
types we have referred
to is very remarkable.
On Plate IX. are patterns of ceilings, and appear to be reproductions of
woven patterns.  Side by
side with the conventional rendering of actual things, the first attempts
of every people to produce
works of ornament take this direction.  The early necessity of plaiting together
straw or bark of trees,
for the formation of articles of clothing, the covering of their rude dwelling,
or the ground on which
they reposed, induced the employment at first of straws and bark of different
natural colours, to be
afterwards replaced by artificial dyes, which gave the first idea, not only
of ornament, but of geome-
trical arrangement.  Nos. 1-4, Plate IX., are from  Egyptian paintings, representing
mats whereon the
king stands; whilst Nos. 6 and 7 are from the ceilings of tombs, which evidently
represent tents
covered by mats. No. 9, 10, 12, show how readily the meander or Greek fret
was produced by the
same means. The universality of this ornament in every style of architecture,
and to be found in some
shape or other amongst the first attempts of ornament of every savage tribe,
is an additional proof of
their having had a similar origin.
The formation of patterns by the equal division of similar lines, as by weaving,
would give to a
rising people the first notions of symmetry, arrangement, disposition, and
the distribution of masses.
The Egyptians, in their decoration of large surfaces, never appear to have
gone beyond a geometrical
arrangement.   Flowing lines are very rare, comparatively, and never the
motive of the composition,
though the germ of even this mode of decoration, the volute form, exists
in their rope ornament.
(No. 10, 13-16, 18-24, on Plate X., and 1, 2, 4, 7, Plate XI.)   Here the
several coils of rope are
subjected to a geometrical arrangement; but the unrolling of this cord gives
the very form  which is
the source of so much beauty in many subsequent styles.     We venture, therefore,
to claim for the
Egyptian style, that though the oldest, it is, in all that is requisite to
constitute a true style of art,
the most perfect.  The language in which it reveals itself to us may seem
foreign, peculiar, formal,
and rigid; but the ideas and the teachings it conveys to us are of the soundest.
 As we proceed with
other styles, we shall see that they approach perfection only so far as they
followed, in common with
the Egyptians, the true principles to be observed in every flower that grows.
 Like these favourites of
Nature, every ornament should have its perfume; i. e. the reason of its application.
    It should
endeavour to rival the grace of construction, the harmony of its varied forms,
and due proportion and
subordination of one part to the other found in the model. When we find any
of these characteristics
wanting in a work of ornament, we may be sure that it belongs to a borrowed
style, where the spirit
which animated the original work has been lost in the copy.
The architecture of the Egyptians is thoroughly polychromatic,-they painted
everything; therefore
we have much to learn from them on this head.    They dealt in flat tints,
and used neither shade nor

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