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Majestric Ornamentation

Since ancient times, among all the peoples of the world, no matter how advanced the civilization, there has existed a strong desire to decorate and ornament. This natural need was building up, strengthening, and accompanying men as the humankind progressed.  The forms and decorations that were simple at first started to evolve.

The most common decorative form in all geographic regions was ornamentation. It was mostly in the form of regular lines, filled sections or whole surfaces. Depending on the type of decorative motifes, ornamentations can be divided into three basic types: geometrical, floral, and animal. Thorough ages each culture created patterns characteristic for a given region, whose knowledge of is helpful in differentiating styles and dating antiques. The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones, a leading researcher of the design history, on the diversity of ornamentations illustrates 2350 variations of decorative styles that originated in different cultural circles: from Ancient Egypt and Greece to the art of the Far East. Various forms of stylized floral ornamentation with the motifs of lotus, papyrus, and palm tree developed in Ancient Egypt. Ancient Greece was abounded in true wealth of decorations: from geometrical (meanders, spiral, zigzag) to floral (acanthus, festoon, palmette, rosette), to animal (dolphins, bucranium), to related to the Greek architectural orders (astragal, cymatium, pearls).

Spirals and platting were characteristic for the art of the early Middle Ages, especially Celtic and Germanic. Simple geometrical and floral forms dominated in the Roman art. The Gothic period was dominated by ornamentation with the motif of stylized flowers and branches, geometrical (tracery), and fantasy (chimera).

The Islamic art had developed a highly elaborate ornamentation, the so-called moresque, whose many characteristics were adopted by the art of Renaissance later on. In addition to the motifs adopted from the ancient times, the Age of Enlightenment was characterized by grotesque and arabesque. New variants related mostly to the circles of Northern Europe appeared during Mannerism. They included: scroll ornamentation, strapwork, and that in the auricular style. At the beginning, the art of Baroque had been dominated by flat volute ornamentations and those in the lobate style. Then acanthus and fruit garlands became more popular. Interlacing and Regency lattice were mostly used in the Regency period. Rococo is associated with rocaille (shell) and acanthus. Classicism saw the return of the antique patterns. During the 19th century, the development of ornamentation was influenced by Historicism and Eclecticism. New floral motifs of fluid forms were created in the early 20th century by the Art Nouveau style. Ornamentation has lost its dominant place in the contemporary art and its role has been reduced to complementing decorations of objects.

Furthermore, ornamentation cannot be associated with only one craft because it is used in both in architecture and in fine arts. The situation is different when it comes to intarsia which is used only in artistic handcrafts, mostly in furniture making.

Inlaying is a decorative technique of putting thin veneer layers of wood (1.6-3.2 mm thick) of different colors and graining on a wooden surface of an item (mostly of a piece of furniture) and arranging them into a pattern. Exotic types of wood are used in this technique, such as naturally dark brown ebony, light brown sandalwood with spotted texture from Eastern India, violet wood from Southern America or satin. If there are no rare types of wood, the available veneers were tinted and stained in the desired tone. Intarsia was used on furniture, boxes, doors, and paneling.

Inlaying had been already known in antiquity, but its biggest boom was in Renaissance and in the 18th century. Inlays, like ornamentations, can take on different motifs: from geometrical to floral, to animal, even to genre scenes, and also use decorative elements. They often complement fillet lines. Fillets are a type of decoration that was adopted in the early 18th century. The most important variants of the decoration were: longitudinal fillet (lines of burl layered in line with the direction of the graining) and transverse (juxtaposed squares with a diverse direction of the graining). Fillets in the shape of fish bones were also popular. They consisted of two angled lines of burl in different shades arranged into the shape of a chevron weave.

While discussing intarsia, we cannot omit another decorative technique of incrustation. It differs from intarsia in that not only wood but also other materials, such as ivory, mother-of-pearl, metal, tortoiseshell, and sometimes gems are used to arrange a pattern. A special type of incrustation is marquetry, popularized by André-Charles Boulle in the years 1642-1732. The Boulle’s method of decorating was based on incrusting tortoiseshell with brass. The highly decorative and laborious technique was to cut with a special saw a pattern simultaneously in two sheets of tortoiseshell and metal layered on top of each other. The pattern in the brass cut in such a way fit the hole in the tortoiseshell. Boulle made furniture in pairs. One piece, called première partie, was covered with tortoiseshell marquetry incrusted with brass, whereas the other, called contre partie, with brass sheet metal incrusted with tortoiseshell.

Inlaid furniture is still popular. Antique furniture in good condition is still searched for by the collectors that value precision and the craftsmanship of the old artisians.

 

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