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Egyptian Patterns

On Plate IX. are patterns of ceilings, and appear to be reproductions of woven patterns. Side by side with the conventional rendering of actual things, the first attempts of every people to produce works of ornament take this direction. The early necessity of plaiting together straw or bark of trees, for the formation of articles of clothing, the covering of their rude dwelling, or the ground on which they reposed, induced the employment at first of straws and bark of different natural colors, to be afterwards replaced by artificial dyes, which gave the first idea, not only of ornament, but of geometrical arrangement. Nos. 1-4, Plate IX., are from Egyptian paintings, representing mats whereon the king stands; whilst Nos. 6 and 7 are from the ceilings of tombs, which evidently represent tents covered by mats. No. 9, 10, 12, show how readily the meander or Greek fret was produced by the same means. The universality of this ornament in every style of architecture, and to be found in some shape or other amongst the first attempts of ornament of every savage tribe, is an additional proof of their having had a similar origin.

Geometrical Ornaments from Ceilings of Tombs
Geometrical Ornaments from Ceilings of Tombs, Plate IX.

The formation of patterns by the equal division of similar lines, as by weaving, would give to a rising people the first notions of symmetry, arrangement, disposition, and the distribution of masses. The Egyptians, in their decoration of large surfaces, never appear to have gone beyond a geometrical arrangement. Flowing lines are very rare, comparatively, and never the motive of the composition, though the germ of even this mode of decoration, the volute form, exists in their rope ornament. (No. 10, 13-16, 18-24, on Plate X., and 1, 2, 4, 7, Plate XI.) Here the several coils of rope are subjected to a geometrical arrangement; but the unrolling of this cord gives the very form which is the source of so much beauty in many subsequent styles. We venture, therefore, to claim for the Egyptian style, that though the oldest, it is, in all that is requisite to constitute a true style of art, the most perfect.

Ornaments with Curved Lines from Ceilings of Tombs
Ornaments with Curved Lines from Ceilings of Tombs, Plate X.

Various Ornaments from Ceilings and Walls of Tombs
Various Ornaments from Ceilings and Walls of Tombs, Plate XI.

The language in which it reveals itself to us may seem foreign, peculiar, formal, and rigid; but the ideas and the teachings it conveys to us are of the soundest. As we proceed with other styles, we shall see that they approach perfection only so far as they followed, in common with the Egyptians, the true principles to be observed in every flower that grows. Like these favourites of Nature, every ornament should have its perfume; i. e. the reason of its application. It should endeavour to rival the grace of construction, the harmony of its varied forms, and due proportion and subordination of one part to the other found in the model. When we find any of these characteristics wanting in a work of ornament, we may be sure that it belongs to a borrowed style, where the spirit which animated the original work has been lost in the copy.

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