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Ornament (India and Persia)

  Eastern traditions of ornament have long influenced architectural design in the West. For example, the complex geometric tiled floors of medieval monasteries and cathedrals in Europe derived from Islamic patterns, and such architectural details as the 14th-century four-centred arch are now believed to have come from Indian Buddhist architecture. However, such influences were sporadic until the 18th century, because architects, artists and designers in the West had access to virtually no printed visual information from Eastern sources. This changed thanks to British trading links with the East, begun by the East India Company. Warren Hastings (1732 - 1818) encouraged the study of Indian culture, and at the end of the 18th century drawings of Indian buildings became available in Britain for the first time. Indian influence can be seen in the decoration of buildings such as the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. In 1851 a magnificent collection of Indian textiles owned by the East India Company was shown at the Great Exhibition in London, and many examples were subsequently purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum. This simple event reinforced Indian ornament as the most important non-Western source of design in European art and architecture, supplanted only at the end of the 19th century by the cult of Japan.

Parallel to this 19th-century interest in things Indian was the rise of serious research into Islamic ornament. This began in the 1830s and 1840s with the publication of Plans, Elevations, Sections and Details of the Alhambra by Owen Jones and Jules Goury. Jones became the most important Islamic scholar of his generation, his only real rival being Edward William Lane (who published from the 1830s a series of books on Egyptian architecture and design). Such work encouraged European designers of consumer products of all kinds to explore symmetrical, non-naturalistic geometric designs—a tradition of ornament which continued in the 20th century, particularly in 1930s Art Deco and 1980s developments in postmodernism. MG PD



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