Color of Moresque Ornament
When we examine the system of coloring adopted by the Moors, we shall find, that as with form, so with color, they followed certain fixed principles, founded on observations of nature's laws, fand which they held in common with all those nations who have practised the arts with success. In all archaic styles of art, practised during periods of faith, the same true principles prevail; and although we find in all somewhat of a local or temporary character, we yet discern in all much that is eternal and immutable; the same grand ideas embodied in different forms, and expressed, so to speak, in a different language.
10. The ancients always used color to assist in the development of form, always employed it as a further means of bringing out the constructive features of a building.
Thus, in the Egyptian column, the base of which represented the root-the shaft, the stalk, the capital, the buds and flowers of the lotus or papyrus, the several colors were so applied that the appearance of strength in the column was increased, and the contours of the various lines more fully developed.
In Gothic architecture, also, color was always employed to assist in developing the forms of the panel-work and tracery; and this is effected to an extent of which it is difficult to form an idea, in the present colorless condition of the buildings. In the slender shafts of their lofty edifices, the idea of elevation was still further increased by upward-running spiral lines of color, which, while adding to the apparent height of the column, also helped to define its form.
In Oriental art, again, we always find the constructive lines of the building well defined by color; an apparent additional height, length, breadth, or bulk, always results from its judicious application; and with the ornaments in relief it developes constantly new forms which would have been altogether lost without it.
The artists have in this but followed the guiding inspiration of Nature, in whose works every transition of form is accompanied by a modification of color, so disposed as to assist in producing distinctness of expression. For example, flowers are separated by color from their leaves and stalks, and these again from the earth in which they grow. So also in the human figure every change of form is marked by a change of color; thus the color of the hair, the eyes, the eyelids and lashes, the sanguine complexion of the lips, the rosy bloom of the cheek, all assist in producing distinctness, and in more visibly bringing out the form. We all know how much the absence or im- pairment of these colors, as in sickness, contributes to deprive the features of their proper meaning and expression.
Had nature applied but one color to all objects, they would have been indistinct in form as well as monotonous in aspect. It is the boundless variety of her tints that perfects the modelling and defines the outline of each; detaching equally the modest lily from the grass from which it springs, and the glorious sun, parent of all color, from the firmament in which it shines.
11. The colors employed by the Moors on their stucco-work were, in all cases, the primaries, blue, red, and yellow (gold). The secondary colors, purple, green, and orange, occur only in the Mosaic dados, which, being near the eye, formed a point of repose from the more brilliant coloring above. It is true that, at the present day, the grounds of many of the ornaments are found to be green; it will always be found, however, on a minute examination, that the color originally employed was blue, which being a metallic pigment, has become green from the effects of time. This is proved by the presence of the particles of blue color, which occur everywhere in the crevices: in the restorations, also, which were made by the Catholic kings, the grounds of the ornaments were repainted both green and purple. It may be remarked that, among the Egyptians and the Greeks, the Arabs and the Moors, the primary colors were almost entirely, if not exclusively, employed during the early periods of art; whilst during the decadence, the secondary colors became of more importance. Thus, in Egypt, in Pharaonic temples, we find the primary colors predominating; in the Ptolemaic temples, the secondary; so also on the early Greek temples are found the primary colors, whilst at Pompeii every variety of shade and tone was employed.
In modern Cairo, and in the East generally, we have green constantly appearing side by side with red, where blue would have been used in earlier times.
This is equally true of the works of the Middle Ages. In the early manuscripts and in stained glass, though other colors were not excluded, the primaries were chiefly used; whilst in later times we have every variety of shade and tint, but rarely used with equal success.
12. With the Moors, as a general rule, the primary colors were used on the upper portions of objects, the secondary and tertiary on the lower. This also appears to be in accordance with a natural law; we have the primary blue in the sky, the secondary green in the trees and fields, ending with the tertiaries on the earth; as also in flowers, where we generally find the primaries on the buds and flowers, and the secondaries on the leaves and stalks.
The ancients always observed this rule in the best periods of art. In Egypt, however, we do see occasionally the secondary green used in the upper portions of the temples, but this arises from the fact, that ornaments in Egypt were symbolical; and if a lotus leaf were used on the upper part of a building, it would necessarily be colored green ; but the law is true in the main; the general aspect of an Egyptian temple of the Pharaonic period gives the primaries above and the secondaries below; but in the buildings of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods more especially, this order was inverted, and the palm and lotus-leaf capitals give a superabundance of green in the upper portions of the temples.
In Pompeian houses we find sometimes in the interiors a gradual gradation of color downwards from the roof, from light to dark, ending with black; but this is by no means so universal as to convince us that they felt it as a law. There are many examples of black immediately under the ceiling.
13. Although the ornaments which are found in the Alhambra in Spain, and in the Court of the Lions especially, are at the present day covered with several thin coats of the whitewash which has at various periods been applied to them, we may be said to have authority for the whole of the coloring of our reproduction; for not only may the colors be seen in the interstices of the ornaments in many places by scaling off the whitewash, but the coloring of the Alhambra was carried out on so perfect a system, that any one who will make this a study can, with almost absolute certainty, on being shown for the first time a piece of Moorish ornament in white, define at once the manner in which it was colored.
So completely were all the architectural forms designed with reference to their subsequent coloring, that the surface alone will indicate the colors they were destined to receive. Thus, in using the colors blue, red, and gold, they took care to place them in such positions that they should be best seen in themselves, and add most to the general effect. On moulded surfaces they placed red, the strongest color of the three, in the depths, where it might be softened by shadow, never on the surface; blue in the shade, and gold on all surfaces exposed to light: for it is evident that by this arrangement alone could their true value be obtained. The several colors are either separated by white bands, or by the shadow caused by the relief of the ornament itself, and this appears to be an absolute principle required in coloring, colors should never be allowed to impinge upon each other.
14. In coloring the grounds of the various diapers the blue always occupies the largest area; and this is in accordance with the theory of optics, and the experiments which have been made with the prismatic spectrum. The rays of light are said to neutralise each other in the proportions of 3 yellow, 5 red, and 8 blue; thus, it requires a quantity of blue equal to the red and yellow put together to produce a harmonious effect, and prevent the predominance of any one color over the others. As in the "Alhambra", yellow is replaced by gold, which tends towards a reddish yellow, the blue is still further increased, to counteract the tendency of the red to overpower the other colors.