Visualizing Ornament

Unveiling Moorish Ornament

The architecture of al-Andalus came under investigation in the second half of the 18th century, and so did its ornamentation. The gorgeous decoration of the Mesquita’s mosaics, or the interwoven patterns of the yeserías of the Alcazar of Sevilla and of the Alhambra held visitors spellbound. The complexity of Moorish abstract decoration, the display of colours and lines tortuously connected was fascinating all travelers, but its secrets remained in great part hidden until Goury and Jones’ plates started to appear in the late 1830s. They unveiled the secret of the muqarnas dome, being the first Europeans to produce a convincing graphical representation of the fabulous honeycomb stalactite vault (Fig. 1). Establishing the fundamental role of geometry and mathematical calculation in Moorish ornamentation, they showed that the magic of the Alhambra was grounded on firm rational knowledge (Fig. 2). – AVB

Girault de Prangey 1837-39. Girault de Prangey 1841. Girault de Prangey 1842. Goury/Jones 1836-45. Grabar 1978.

From Ornament to Pattern

The gorgeous ornamentation of al-Andalus’ architecture was in great part responsible for its positive reception. It is therefore no surprise to see that ornament was given a privileged place in architectural publications. Ornament figured in architectural views but also as decontextualized geometrical patterns that could be easily applied to any sort of decoration (Figs. 3-4). Girault de Prangey’s partial representation of an arch illustrates a documentary interest for the application of ornament to architecture (Fig. 5): he included the entire constructive sequence of the arcade, formed by the shaft, capital, arch, intermediary entablature and upper arches. On the other hand, Owen Jones, often more interested in decoration, converted ornament into a dematerialized pattern that expanded over the plates’ entire surface, ready for any kind of copy/paste reuse (Figs. 6-8). – AVB

Murphy 1814. Girault de Prangey 1842. Jones 1845. Varela Braga 2013.
Fig.1 (en)

Fig. 1. Muqarnas pendentive (Goury/Jones 1836-45, vol. 1, detail from text to Pl. 10).

Fig.2 (en)

Fig. 2. Graphic representation of a muqarnas dome (Goury/Jones 1836-45, vol. 1, text to Pl. 10).

Fig.3 (en)

Fig. 3. Geometrical pattern from the Alhambra (Murphy 1814, Pl. 76).