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Decorative Periods:
Decorative Stles And Periods In The Home
General Antiquity
Pompeian Decorative Styles And Periods
Gothic Decorative Styles And Periods
The Renaissance
Decorative Styles And Periods In Italy
Decorative Styles And Periods In France
The Style Of Louis Quatorze
The Style Of Louis Quinze
The Style Of Lous Seize
Empire Decorative Styles And Periods
Elizabethan Or Tudor Styles Sixteenth Century
Jacobean Period
Queen Anne
Chippendale Middle Of Eighteenth Century
The Adams Brother
Hepplewhite Book Issued 1789
Shearton - End Of The Eighteenth Century
English And American Empire
Art Nouveau

General Antiquity

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



It is the happy business of the architect and decorative artist to study the ancient styles of the centuries before the Renaissance, and to find in them much fascinating material for thought. But we who are only home-makers of the moment can but glance at the work of the past in the most cursory way until the glad hour comes which may be devoted to pure cultivation. This being a day when the compressed tablet fills the want of a hurried people, it is well to take in this concentrated form the history of decoration before the fifteenth century, throwing into the compound a dash of Egyptian, Grecian, Roman, Romanesque, and Gothic.

If the combination sounds strong to unpleasantness, let judgment be suspended until the tablet is taken, for it is certainly beneficial and not at all unpalatable.

Especially in America does the idea prevail that the mere march of time insures intellectual progress. Those who have come to forty years, and from that height survey the land, see daily our cities enlarged, our mechanics developed, our public-school children outstripping their parents, and a thousand other flattering marks of the onward march.

It is a bit of a blow to the self-complacent survey to find that when we wish to concentrate all this modern improvement into the dearest spot on earth, sweet home, that we stumble on records of a domestic perfection that matured centuries before the Christian era. I speak particularly of decorations; for domestic architecture being the exact expression of social needs, must vary with races and climates.

The story of the home, its furnishing and its decoration, is a fascinating tale, leading from happy introductions through all the intricacies of an absorbing plot, with every element of charm and strength. Chapter by chapter the story opens, and each one follows in artistic sequence.

But to understand the characters, to recognise the dramatis personae as they reappear in other countries and in altered vestments, their acquaintance must be made in the first chapters. In other words, a study must be made of their important features, that each may be recognised wherever found.

A deep investigation of the designs symbolic and decorative, which were perfected thousands of years ago in China, India, Japan, Assyria, Egypt, is one for the specialised student only, and it is not within the scope of a handbook on general styles to treat them with exhaustive erudition; but as all we have now proceeds from these beginnings, a certain familiarity with them is more than desirable. It is, in fact, a necessity to complete understanding of the things around us to know the alphabet of decoration.

To the collector of furniture or the maker of a home (synonymous they are), the delight is keen when he recognises in the precious furnishings about him the designs whose history and significance he has studied. The ball and claw foot of a chair suggests the European adaptation of the Chinese dragon and his pearl; the Italian mosaic speaks of its Oriental ancestry; the fine pilaster of the Venetian Renaissance tells its Greek inspiration; and many other familiar friends announce themselves thus charmingly to the initiated.

If nothing is new, then there is much agreeable matter in placing the old, and to do that involves a turning back to the earliest beginnings. Even art's latest note, 1'Art Nouveau, has for the most part the feeling of old Japanese designs. The Adams period of English decoration had inspiration from France, which imported it from Pompeii, this in turn having been copied from the older Greek, which leads back still further to the Egyptian.

To know these styles and all others that have made their lasting impress involves a course of study so delightful that one wishes never to reach its end. But it is sufficient for the child of the hour whose life is divided by many interests to have a bowing acquaintance, an ability to recognise, in passing, the great fundamental styles of the antique.

Going back to the beginning of things, Egypt rises reluctantly from desert tombs and buried cities; and from her are forced the secrets of a decorative art so rich and so close to Nature that they could not die, or, at least, in dying inspired those master artists, the Greeks.

Egyptian domiciles would be as much out of place in a town as a Venetian palace set on an arid hill; but the wonderful beauty of Egyptian details are worth a moment of study, for themselves and because they inspired other artists of other countries. It is but natural to ask of what value they are practically. The reply to that is, identification of classes of design, and pure delight.

Everything that goes to nature for inspiration is true and beautiful. The Egyptian artist decorator did this very thing. He lay dreaming in the sun on the Nile banks until the lines of the water, the colour of sand and sky had soaked into his soul, and his hands expressed the mind's delight. He reached out and plucked the flowers from the river, and laid bud and petal in charming repeating patterns. He bound together the long reeds to form a model for columns; and for capitals he grouped the feathery palms or took pattern from the opening lotus bud. He made that most perfect of all columns where the capital is not a detached block set atop a shaft, but springs powerful and graceful from the column, spreading to its burden as naturally as a calyx widens from the stem. Indeed it is just that, - a calyx on a stem, the graceful curve of the bud forming the capital without a break in continuity, a delight to the eye, a satisfaction to the reason.

The earliest forms of household furniture are those left us by the Egyptians, - all found in those exciting tombs which the engaging explorer is ever exposing to a delighted world. This furniture inclines towards animal forms more than vegetable in its construction. The chairs are straight and honest, and were meant to hold burdens frankly, and not to dissemble by cabriole legs and slanting backs.

The principles were sound, based on the requirements of the inexorable laws of gravity and the frangibility of household goods; but so harmonious was the drawing of chairs and stools that man has been pleased to copy certain of them in modern times. There is a bit of humour in the fact that when explorers recently opened the tomb of the parents of Queen Tii, and found there two superb chairs, the specimens were promptly named Empire and Louis Seize.

Seeing how firmly the beasts stood upon four pads, the designer of that time gave to man, the two-footed and fatigued, the luxury of rest on four feet, where no laws of balance persecute the weary muscles. In other words, his favourite model for chairs was fitted with animals' legs or feet, and a couch of them represented an entire beast.

Perhaps we do not care to copy these forms for our present use, but it is satisfactory to have traced our much-prized claw-foot to its antique source. It is with a joy almost malicious that we find the Greeks guilty of stealing artistic thunder from the Egyptian, for late Egypt and early Greece take on a similarity of line. And if for no other reason, it were worth while to pore over Egyptian decoration to be able to correctly read the product of the artists in the First Empire of France. This seems a slight reason for investigation, almost an affront to the student of Egypt, but his pardon is begged, and the explanation is made that the hunt is not for mythology, nor yet for the religion of a people whose development led the ancient world, but is for all that ministers to that most catholic of hunters for beauty, the trained eye.

The Egyptians with their many gods were rich in symbolism. In a vague way we know that a scarab had a sacred meaning, that a winged ball had another, and the spirit of these things is not lost, even though with ridiculous unfitness we use a copy of the desert Sphinx as a paperweight and serve bonbons on the symbol of eternity. On the contrary, there is a positive pleasure in knowing that the things about us are full of meaning, be it grave or gay.

The modern world of design is like a cosmopolitan gathering of men. The question of where each one came from is of consuming interest to the observer. To know where each symbol and class of design originated, as the eye distinguishes between one and another, is not only a pleasure but a protection, a defense against hybrid invention both inartistic and incongruous.



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