This section is from the book "Ideals In Art: Papers Theoretical Practical Critical", by Walter Crane . Also available from Amazon: Ideals in Art: Papers Theoretical, Practical, Critical.
The forms of animals furnish the designer in all kinds of decorative work, whether flat or in relief, with pleasant means of enriching and enlivening his pattern.
Ornament may indeed reach great refinement and delicacy without the use of living forms, as it has done in thecase of Arabian and Moorish types, and in such Persian work under Mohammedan influence as the superb carpet from the Mosque of Ardebil; yet a lover of incident and romance, of movement and variety - perhaps one might say a western imagination - welcomes the forms of animals, birds, and even humans, as delightful elements of pattern.
Originally, no doubt, like the recurring types of floral form in Oriental, Chinese and Indian and Persian work, animal forms were introduced with definite meaning, with symbolical and heraldic purpose, and (despite Mr. Lewis Day) I still think that ornament gains in dignity and character if it contains some kernel of thought or intention or poetic fancy in its meshes, in its lines and curves, and the forms with which its inventor plays.
Technically, by the use of animal forms contrasting masses can be obtained in design of a kind not possible in any other way. A mass of stems and leaves and flowers in a tapestry is pleasantly broken by the varied shapes of figures and animals which give relief and breadth by their larger contours and masses of colour, and this power of contrast and mass are elements of great value. Even in a mechanically repeated surface pattern, woven or printed, interest, dignity, and distinction can be given by recurring elements of this kind, especially if we are careful about their choice and, above all, their treatment.
The treatment of animal forms in design of course depends greatly upon the conditions of the work, the material of its execution, and its use and position. The rich colour and texture of Arras tapestry, for instance, it is obvious would lend themselves to a much greater degree of realism than the more abstract treatment suitable to the limitations of inlaid work, or cloisonne enamel. In embroidery, again, the needle has considerable freedom as regards texture and the expression of surface, and in the case of the plumage of birds, may, as we see is done in Chinese and Japanese silk embroidery, approach nature in the construction and set of the feathers, and the sheen and gloss of their colour effect.
Even in the extremely abstract treatment necessitated by the exigencies of incised hieroglyphics we can hardly find finer examples of treatment, so direct and unerring is the characterization, than the birds and animals of the ancient Egyptians. The same power of characterization, though with a freer hand, is also seen in their mural paintings.
Treatment of Animal Forms in Textiles
Royal Mantle from the Treasury of Bamberg, Twelfth Century (from De Farey)
Heraldic Treatment of Animal Forms in Textiles
Chasuble from the Cathedral of Anagni, Thirteenth Century (from De Farcy)
Sicilian Silk Pattern. Fourteenth Century
The early Greek potters ran them close in designing the black silhouettes of animals forming borders around their vessels and vases; but we find here at work a conscious ornamental feeling in the treatment of their forms - an apparently intentional arrangement of the lines of the animal into more or less formal curves. A running antelope, for instance, will take a sort of volute curve, and in one case the volute it-self is drawn beneath. The forms of these animals and birds of the vase paintings were no doubt influenced by the brush, and many of such ornamental generalization, a certain balance and rhythm is obtained.
Embroidered Tabard, Sixteenth Century, in the Archaeological Museum at Ghent (from De Farcy)
Treatment of Animal Forms in Decoration and Heraldry them might be described as brush forms. The bodies of the birds and fish are oval or ovoid masses, and in their repetition, by means of
Indeed, there is no better method of insuring ornamental effect when introducing animal forms than the practice of designing them within certain definite boundaries, which may be geometric, such as squares, circles, and ovals, according to the contours of the masses required in the particular design.
The Japanese give in one of their drawingbooks some clear adaptations of birds and animals enclosed in circles, and they are very ingenious pieces of packing.
Detail from Embroidered Tabard,
The early weavers of the Egypto-Roman textiles of Alexandria and of Byzantium, and of the renowned Sicilian silks from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries, and those of Lucca of the fourteenth, all revelled in animal forms, and were adepts in their treatment. In the
Sixteenth latter cases they were used symbolically and heraldically, and, indeed, with the development of heraldry in the middle ages under feudalism, such elements became the principal elements in decoration of all kinds, so much so that it might be almost said that heraldry was the ornament and decoration of the mediaeval times.
Our Richard 11, it will be remembered, in stall plates, and effigies, of the splendid treatment of heraldry in the arms, as well as the dresses of knights and ladies bearing their family totems thick upon them.
Animal Forms in DEcOratioN & Heraldry. The Robe of the famous Wilton picture, is kneeling in a robe of gold tissue woven with the badges of his house - the hart couchant and the phoenix - repeated all over as in a sort of diaper, and there are abundant instances among our brasses,
Richard IInd, From the picture at "Wilton House"
Boldness, spirit, distinctness of colour and form, and characterization governed by ornamental colour and effect, seem to be the chief principles in designing heraldic animals.
They not only have to be depicted, but displayed. Therefore every distinctive and important attribute or characteristic is emphasized.
The lion's mane and tail become foliated,
The Lions (or Leopards) of England, from the Tomb of William de Valence, Earl of Pombroke,
Westminster Abbey, 1296 and his legs are fringed and tasselled. His claws are spread wide - cleared for action; his mouth is well open, and his long red, curly tongue rollicks out between his emphatic teeth. A lion out of a cage in the Zoological Gardens would be no manner of use on a coat, or as a crest or a supporter. The endeavour of later times to make the heraldic lion a more reasonable being has only tamed and degraded him. He looks round-headed, muzzy, and spiritless.
From the Tomb of Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster. 1296.
Much the same principles apply to the treatment of the other "fearful wild fowl" of heraldry, as well as the necessity for very careful decorative spacing. I will only recall, in this connection, the spacing of the English leopards in the fourth quarter of the royal arms on a shield of thirteenth century shape as offering good field to a designer from the exercise of ingenuity in space filling.