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IN the rudest attempts to provide homes we find evidence of a desire to decorate them.
In early examples ornament usually springs out of constructive methods; others are merely surface additions, but either symbolical or purely decorative (as in the curved forms and interlacings).
However, practically in every style of ornament that we can study we find in the early types some reminiscences of constructural details.
Thus the Egyptian column (like that of Chaldea) is a tree trunk, or a bundle of reeds, ornamented with flowers; their dado, though carved in stone or painted on stucco, is the representation of a reed mat, of wattle looped together with flowering water plants.
In Greek marble buildings we discover the ends of the long-discarded timber joists peeping out below the beautifully proportioned, carefully carved entablature; consoles and brackets belong to the log era.
Heavy Brahminical stone buildings, even the cave temples, retain features that are peculiar to timber practice.
In the same way most of the early surface ornamentation is symbolical, though springing from familiar objects turned to decorative ends.
Egyptian architecture and ornament may be classed as entirely symbolical, for there was a meaning in the pylons and obelisks, the hybrid animal forms, the lotus, papyrus, palm, and other botanical motifs.
Greek ornament, though in its primitive types symbolical, was not so in the main; nor was it in the Roman, though embracing many symbols.
Early Christian art was essentially symbolical. Churches were cruciform or circular. Ornament, when not cruciform, was a little more recondite – circular, triangular, trilobed or represented fish, ships, lambs, peacocks, doves and pelicans, eagles, winged bulls and lions, and many other things.
Even colour has its devotional and ritual significance.
Although this side of the problem is not fundamentally important to good design, it is imperative that ornament should be appropriate to that which it is to embellish and all its surroundings.
So that selection, both as to quality and quantity, the latter involving questions of balance and general design, is necessary.
We shall easily understand this if we consider the objects we have in view.
We will let one who was not unsuccessful in his profession speak.
Sir William Chambers says: “Ornaments are to be chosen or rejected according to the associations which exist between their adoption and the effects which they are calculated to produce on the mind.
When we aim at an effect of grandeur and stability, but few ornaments are admissible, because many subdivisions of the detail, which is the case where decoration is unsparingly used, destroy the ideas of strength, as, in fact, they weaken, or appear to weaken, the parts whereon they are employed.
Hence, according to its destination, ornament and variety therein must be more or less introduced into the work, always bearing in mind that excess and overloading, when ornament is profuse, distract and fatigue the eye and tend to destroy the effect of the best-arranged design.”
Thus we see that, quite apart from the question of symbolism, tradition cannot be ignored.
As Sir Frank Warner well said: “The question of styles is an all- important one, and will probably remain so as long as the world lasts.
Archaeology is, therefore, of vital necessity to all who are engaged in the trades of building, decoration, and furniture,” and, he might have added, to all those who wish to appreciate past efforts and enjoy intelligently the works of the present.