Ornaments (or Decorations), Architectural

Ornaments (Or Decorations), Architectural are additions made to simple constructive features, or to the form of these features, for the purpose of embellishment or elegance. Thus the Doric shaft, while answering the constructive purposes of a simple square or round pier, is ornamented with fluting; and its capital, with its beautifully proportioned echinus and abacus, supports as a plain slab would do the weight of the entablature. The other classic orders illustrate this in a richer manner. Thus the Corinthian column, with its fluted and elegant shaft, resting on an ornamented base, and crowned by an ornamented capital, takes the place of what might have been, had utility alone been consulted, a plain pier of rubble-work, with a rough stone to rest upon, and another on the top to receive the load.

In classic architecture, as in every good style, the same principle pervades all the ornamental features, viz. that they are constructive features ornamented in a manner suitable to their use; for instance, a column being a member for support, should be of such a form as to denote this; the constructive use of a cornice being to protect the top of the wall, and to shield the front of it from the rain and sun, it should be made of such a form as to do this, and also to look as if it did it to express its purpose. In classic architecture, the cornice consists of several members, in which the constructive decoration is well seen; the mutules and modillions beautifully indicating in an ornamental manner their original use, while the leaf enrichments of the small moldings give life and animation to the building. In mediaeval art the same principle prevails in a much greater degree, and over a more complex system of construction. The shafts, with their elegant and purpose-like bases and caps, are arranged so that each supports a separate member of the vaulting. The arch moldings are divided so as to indicate the rings of their constructive formation. The buttresses, so elegant in outline, express the part they serve in supporting the vaulting; the pinnacles, with their ornamental finals, are the decorated dead-weights which steady the buttresses. The foliage and smaller ornaments are also beautifully and suitably applied, as the growth and vigor of the supporting capitals and corbels, and the running foliage of the string-courses, archmoldings, etc., fully illustrate.

There are, no doubt, many styles of art to which these remarks can hardly be said to apply; as, for example, the Assyrian, Egyptian, and Hindu styles, where we find many features applied in a manner meant to be ornamental, although actually contrary to their constructive use. In these styles (and also in Greek architecture), human figures, bulls, and other animals are placed as columns to carry the weight of a superincumbent mass. This is evidently wrong in principle, except when the figure is placed in an attitude to indicate that he is supporting a weight, as the Greek Atlantes do; but in the former cases religious notions seem to have overcome true artistic feeling. There are also many forms of ornament used in all styles the origin of which is obscure and their advantage doubtful; such are the zigzag, chevron, billet, etc., so common in early mediaeval art and the scrolls of Ionic and Indian art, and the complications of the interlacing work of the North in the Middle Ages. Such things may be admissible in colored decoration, such as the confused patterns of Saracenic art, and the shell- patterns of Indian art; but where ornamental form is wanted, unless the requirements of the construction are carefully followed as the guide to the decoration, all principle is lost, and the ornament runs wild. This has frequently occurred in the history of art, and in no case more markedly than in the art of the Renaissance.

Definition of ornament

The material in use must also have an influence on the form and style of the ornament. Thus stone-carving and metal-work must evidently require different treatment. Facsimile leaves might be formed in iron, but could not be so carved in stone. This constructive element should be carefully attended to in designing. All imitative art must be to some extent conventional. Natural objects, such as leaves, flowers, etc., cannot be copied absolutely literally; and in suiting the conventional treatment to the nature of the material used lies the great skill of the artist.

See also the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

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