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Ornament by Design



Ornament by Design



A plant with large, naturally arching leaves and slender, curling stems that forms the basis of the Corinthian capital, and is also used in running and filling decoration.  According to the architect Jean-François Blondel, Greek akanthos was a source for Gothic ornament, and Roman acanthus or bear’s breeches, was favoured by Roman and Modern sculptors. (See nos 2, 4).



A two- or three-dimensional surface decoration of scrolls, interlacing foliage and tendrils, sometimes combined with band- or strap-work.  It was so-called because it derived in the sixteenth century from Islamic art, in which the representation of man and the animal world was believed to be absolutely proscribed.  In the later eighteenth century, arabesque decoration was often informed by Roman and Etruscan archaeological excavations and incorporated human and animal motifs, either directly or by inclusion of framed figurative scenes. (See nos 15, 16).



Sculpture in which the ornamental elements remain attached to the ground.  It is especially associated with pediments and friezes, but is also a characteristic of door panels and casements, and ceiling compartments, and defines ornamental motifs such as trophies.  (See nos 3, 5, 7, 16, 22, 24, 26).



The summit of a column, the capital acts as a junction point between the vertical shaft and the horizontal entablature.  In the eighteenth century architects made use of five different columns and attendants capitals: Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite.  These varied in their size, proportions and decorative elaboration from the most plain (Tuscan) to the most complex (Composite). (See here no. 14 – Doric; see no. 11 – Ionic; see no. 13 – Corinthian).



Refers to a human figure, usually female, that serves in place of a column or pilaster, and presents their load-bearing function to support an entablature.  Cayatids can also take the form of Terms, statues that are of human form at the top but end, or terminate, in a plinth.  (See nos 24, 25 ).



An ornament that is said to derive from a scroll: it has an empty, flat centre and rolls or scrolls about its edges.  Sculpted in stone, cartouches were often used on the exterior of buildings to name the place, or to display coats of arms.  They were also used in interior decoration, either carved in wood or fashioned in plaster.  The cartouche had a mixed reputation in eighteenth-century France.  Blondel acknowledged its usefulness; the abbé Laugier condemned these ‘bizarre’ ornaments and rather wished them banned.  (See no. 20).



A type of ornamental bracket with a scroll-shaped profile projecting from an exterior or interior wall and with the potential to support the weight of a balcony, or statue, or vase.  Inverted consoles served to terminate balustrades and garden walls.  (See no. 4)



Is the uppermost part of the entablature, above the frieze.  It projects from the wall and, on the exterior, is topped, in the case of eighteenth-century French domestic architecture, only by a balustrade.  Other architectural features, such as windows and doors, and pieces of case furniture, may be crowned by a cornice.  Its ornament is in the multiplicity of its mouldings.  (See nos 13, 14, 17, 21, 22).



Refers to an architectural representation of the exterior or interior façade of a building.  Together with a plan and a section it provides all the information needed to execute a building.  Writers of eighteenth-century drawings manuals often referred to these types of drawings as ‘constructions’.  Elevations are represented not in perspective, but absolutely flat.  The effect of plasticity is created by the use of shading.  (See nos 11, 14).



A stylised flower or leaf ornament used in decorative sculpture and metalwork.



Is a horizontal band above the columns or pilasters and below the cornice. They can be left plain (no. 13), or they can be decorated with ornament (no. 26).  Ornament designs with a pronounced horizontal access are designs potentially for elements to make up a frieze. (See nos 2, 6).



A cord of flowers, fruit and foliage suspended between points and used in architecture to connect elements in a design.  Said to have been used in antiquity to decorate the door of temples, it was associated with celebration and plenty.  (See nos 11, 21, 22).



A mask used to decorate the keystones of arches and arcades.  A distinction was drawn in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries between ‘heads’ used for this purpose – of classical deities and allegorical figures – and ‘mascarons’, or ridiculous and grotesque faces that grimaced and shamed rather than graced the architecture they decorated.  Both kinds of masks became important ornamental motifs in the eighteenth century for the interior and exterior decoration of buildings and for furniture.  (See nos 5, 6, 19, 21).


Thin decorative strips, painted, moulded or carved in a variety of shape, mouldings are used to decorate a surface. They can be flat (filets), convex (bead) or concave (astragal), they can combine convex and concave in double curves (cyma) or concave mouldings between flat fillets (scotia).   The surface of the mouldings themselves can be left smooth and plain or, it can be decorated.  Used in different combinations, mouldings were esteemed in terms of contour and profile.  They are the principle decorative element of the frame.  Architects were warned not to rely on drawings for their mouldings; it was essential to study the ways light falls on mouldings to achieve the desired effect of relief.  (See nos 3, 11, 17, 21, 23, 24, 25)



A recess in the thickness of a wall in which a statue or vase is placed.  The size and proportion of a niche were determined by its location and the selection of classical order.  It diminished in size the higher it was positioned on the wall; its proportions were calculated in relation to the width of the accompanying column.  Special kinds of niche, so-called niches à rocaille and niches à tabernacle, developed respectively for garden and church architecture where its use was especially favoured.  The Encyclopédie asked: is a niche an ornament?  The Ancients thought so; the Moderns were more equivocal.  (See nos 12, 15, 19).



Order refers to the arrangement of the projecting elements of a building in established proportions, determined by the function of each part.  An order consists of a column and entablature, sometime supplemented by a pedestal.  The three Greek orders (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian) were supplemented by two Roman orders (Tuscan and Composite).  They offered a scale of ornamental elaboration from the simple and plain Doric, with smooth or faceted heavy shafts, plain capitals and no bases, to lush and ornate Corinthian and Composite orders, with taller, fluted column shafts, bases and capitals of acanthus leaf mixed with scrolls or, in the case of the Composite, acanthus combined with the volutes of the Ionic.  (See no. 16 for the Doric; no. 15 for the Corinthian).



Pedestals were used both in architecture and sculpture to support respectively a column or a statue or vase.  (See nos 12 and 16).



Conventionally triangular in shape, a pediment consists of a gable placed on a horizontal entablature.  Structural, according to Laugier’s primitive hut, it had, according to Blondel become ornamental by the eighteenth century, the opportunity for sculptural elaboration.  (See no. 5).



A flattened column projecting in low-relief from the wall, the pilaster results from the transformation of a load-bearing column into a decorative feature to articulate the surface of a wall.  Laugier famously banned them as corrupt and decadent.  A perpendicular design contained within parallel lines, like a vertical frieze, is sometimes also called a pilaster ornament.  (See nos 13, 14 and 10).



A horizontal section through a building viewed from above, a plan maps the relation between rooms and other spaces in a building at one level of the structure.  Though called a floor-plan, it does not in fact represent the point of the floor but, by convention, a height some 4 feet above it in order to include features such as windows whose opening at not necessarily registered at ground level.  Coloured washes as sometimes used in plans to denote the use of particular materials: rose for masonry etc.



Ornament dominated by the horizontal roll of foliate forms in which the principle stem lines remain distinct.  This is what sets the scroll apart from the interlaced patters of arabesques and grotesques.  Scrolls are described as leaf or flower scrolls according to the decoration of stems and the volutes; they can also be ‘inhabited’.  In exhibit no. 6, Neptune appears to colonise the scroll; only the vestige of its spiralling forms unfold freely before him.



A vertical plane cut through a building, a section describes the relation between the different levels in the structure.  The parts cut by the section are generally washed or coloured-in to distinguish them from the representation of spaces within.  Sections are sometimes combined with elevations.  (See nos 13, 14, 15).



An arrangement of foliage, flowers or fruit in dipping lines suspended at intervals from hooks or by ribbons.  (See nos 15, 23)



Divided between a figurative upper part, representing a mythological or human figure, and an architectural lower part, consisting of a tapering pillar or pedestal, the term, from the Latin terminus, marked a boundary.  Terms were used in decoration to delimit and frame the borders of ceilings and were also used, free-standing as garden ornaments.  (See nos 17, 20).



Painted, carved or moulded a trophy represents a collection of weapons arranged about a vertical axis, in imitation of the spoils of war carried on poles in Roman triumphs.  Eighteenth-century trophies were not limited to arms but included assemblies of objects symbolising the sciences, the arts, the seasons, the continents, etc.  The beauty of a trophy was said to lie in the choice and arrangement of the components and their relation to the character of the building.  (See 8, 14, 17).

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