The blue vault of the sky undoubtedly suggested the dome, etc.
The following are a few of the leading principles of ornamental art as set forth by Owen Jones in his Grammar of Ornament, a fine work, magnificently illustrated, whose perusal could hardly fail to delight the most indifferent:
"All good ornamental art should possess fitness, proportion, harmony, the result of all which is repose."
"Construction should be decorated. Decoration should never be purposely constructed."
"All ornament should be based upon geometrical construction."
"Harmony of form consists in the proper balancing and contrast of the straight, the inclined, and the curved."
"In surface decoration all lines should flow out of a parent stem. Every part, however distant, should be traced to its branch or root. Natural law."
"All junctions of curved lines with each other, or with straight lines, should be tangential to each other. Natural law."
"Natural forms, as subjects of ornament, should not be imitated, but should be conventionalized."
The origin of all attempts at decorating or beautifying objects lies in the universal love of mankind for the beautiful. Once the necessaries of life provided for, man instinctively, the world over, turns his attention toward gratifying this feeling, by improving and decorating the forms around him - his arms, utensils, dwelling, or his own person. The history of every nation proves this, and no matter how rude, and even ugly, their efforts may seem to us, we are bound to recognize in them the same motives that actuated the builders of the Parthenon or of St. Peter's at Rome. This awakening and gratification of the aesthetic sense seems to be the first advance from a condition of mere animal existence, in which food, shelter, and comfort are the only considerations, to tastes and desires that are higher and, consequently, more impersonal.
The term historic ornament is applied to the various styles of ornamental art which have flourished at various periods in the world's history, from the Egyptian, dating from the 14th century B.C., to those that exist at the present day. Their number is, consequently, almost unlimited, and we will confine ourselves to the consideration of a few of the principal ones only - those that have achieved the most enduring fame, or those that exercised the most marked influence upon succeeding styles.
In considering the various styles, we must always bear in mind that, with the exception of the Egyptian, all show very markedly the influence of the styles that preceded them, being very often merely an outgrowth or development of a preceding one. Thus the Greeks borrowed many forms from the Egyptians. The Romans simply adapted and elaborated the Greek style, etc. So that while each style is usually known by certain prominent characteristics, it does not follow that these characteristics are peculiar to it alone. They may be found in other styles, though not to such a great extent. While similar features will thus be seen to run through many styles, each will usually be found to possess an individuality of its own. Every nation, like every individual, possesses different wants and capabilities, and will develop itself accordingly. Differences in religion, climate, manners, customs, etc., will cause differences in their art and literature, the most lasting monuments of their morals, taste, and feelings.
It is rather by the study of the art and literature of a people that we arrive at a true knowledge of them than from the perusal of mere historic facts concerning them - when they lived, who conquered them, etc.
ANCIENT OR CLASSIC. 1400 B.C. - 300 A.D. Egyptian. - Characteristics: symbolic, severe, simple, grand, massive. Conventional forms of lotus, papyrus, etc. Oblique lines. Greek. - Characteristics: aesthetic, simple, harmonious, beautiful. Conventional forms, anthemion, acanthus. Ellipse. Roman. - Characteristics: elaborate, rich, costly. Conventional forms, acanthus scroll, monsters. Circle. MEDIEVAL. 300 A.D. - 1300 A.D. Byzantine. - Symbolic, rich, elaborate. Conventional forms, principal architectural feature - dome. Saracenic. - Gorgeous coloring, graceful curves. Forms entirely geometric. Arabesque, geometrical tracery, interlacing. Gothic. - Imposing, grand. Pointed arches, clustered columns, vaulted roof, spire buttress. Forms both natural and conventional. Stained glass. MODERN OR RENAISSANCE. 1300 A.D. - 1900 A.D. Renaissance. - Mixture of classic and mediaeval elements. Result not generally good. Cinquecento. - aesthetic, revival of true classic principles. Beautiful curves, fine proportions and distribution. Conventional animal and plant forms. Human figure. Louis Quatorze. - Sparkling, glittering. Absence of color, want of symmetry.
Ancient art is also known as classic, a term which, in architecture, sculpture, painting, and music, is almost synonymous with good and admirable. Taken as a whole and at its best, classic art has never been surpassed. The designs of the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, and even the forms of their buildings, are still copied at the present day.
The horizontal line is a marked feature of classic art. It is visible in the leading lines of their architecture, in the frequency of horizontal borders, friezes, etc. It accords admirably with the constructive features of classic architecture, and thus conforms to the important decorative principle that ornament should emphasize rather than disguise construction.
1. Egyptian Art. - The oldest of which we have any record dates from 1800 B.C. Egyptian art is symbolic, that is to say, the forms were chosen not so much on account of their beauty as for the purpose of conveying some meaning. The government of Egypt being almost entirely in the hands of the priests, these symbols were generally of a religious character, signifying power and protection. The principal ones were: The lotus, signifying plenty, abundance; the zigzag, symbolic of the river Nile; the winged globe or scarabaeus, signifying protection and dominion, usually placed over doors of houses; the fret, type of the Great Labyrinth, with its three thousand chambers, which was, in its turn, symbolic of the life of a human soul.