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Arab Decorative Art & The Moors

Arabian Ornaments of the Thirteenth Century from Cairo
Arabian Ornaments of the Thirteenth Century from Cairo, Plate XXXII.

Arabian Ornaments of the Thirteenth Century from Cairo
Arabian Ornaments of the Thirteenth Century from Cairo, Plate XXXIII.

Portion of an Illuminated Copy of the Koran
Portion of an Illuminated Copy of the Koran, Plate XXXIV.

The Moors also introduced another feature into their surface ornament, viz. that there were often two and sometimes three planes on which the patterns were drawn, the ornaments on the upper plane being boldly distributed over the mass, whilst those on the second interwove themselves with the first, enriching the surface on a lower level ; by which admirable contrivance a piece of ornament retains its breadth of effect when viewed at a distance, and affords most exquisite, and oftentimes most ingenious, decoration for close inspection. Generally there was more variety in their surface treatment; the feathering which forms so prominent a feature on the ornaments on Plates XXXII., XXXIII., was intermixed with plain surfaces, such as we see at Nos. 17, 18, 32, Plate XXXII. The ornament No. 13, Plate XXXIII., is in pierced metal, and is a very near approach to the perfection of distribution of the Moorish forms; it finely exhibits the proportionate diminution of the forms towards the centre of the pattern, and that fixed law, never broken by the Moors, that however distant an ornament, or however intricate the pattern, it can always be traced to its branch and root.

Arabian Art
Arabian Art

Moresque Art
Moresque Art.

Moresque Art
Moresque Art.

Generally, the main differences that exist between the Arabian and Moresque styles may be summed up thus,-the constructive features of the Arabs possess more grandeur, and those of the Moors more refinement and elegance.

The exquisite ornaments on Plate XXXIV., from a copy of the Koran, will give a perfect idea of Arabian decorative art. Were it not for the introduction of flowers, which rather destroy the unity of the style, and which betray a Persian influence, it would be impossible to find a better specimen of Arabian ornament. As it is, however, it is a very perfect lesson both in form and color.

The immense mass of fragments of marble derived from Roman ruins must have very early led the Arabs to seek to imitate the universal practice of the Romans, of covering the floors of their houses and monuments with mosaic patterns, arranged on a geometrical system; and we have on Plate XXXV. a great number of the varieties which this fashion produced with the Arabs. No better idea can be obtained of what style in ornament consists than by comparing the mosaics on Plate XXXV. with the Roman mosaics, Plate XXV.; the Byzantine, Plate XXX.; the Moresque, Plate XLIII. There is scarcely a form to be found in any one which does not exist in all the others. Yet how strangely different is the aspect of these plates! It is like an idea expressed in four different languages. The mind receives from each the same modified conception, by the sounds so widely differing.

Mosaics from Walls and Pavements from Houses in Cairo
Mosaics from Walls and Pavements from Houses in Cairo, Plate XXXV.

Mosaics from Pompeii and the Museum at Naples
Mosaics from Pompeii and the Museum at Naples, Plate XXV.

Byzantine Mosaics
Byzantine Mosaics, Plate XXX.

Moresque Mosaics
Moresque Mosaics, Plate XLIII.

The twisted cord, the interlacing of lines, the crossing of two squares, the equilateral triangle arranged within a hexagon, are the starting-points in each; the main differences resulting in the scheme of coloring, with the material employed and the uses to which they were applied, mainly suggested. The Arabian and the Roman are pavements, and of lower tones; the Moresque are dados; whilst those of the brighter hues, on Plate XXX., are decorations on the constructive features of the building.

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