Owen Jones. The grammar of ornament


Owen Jones. The grammar of ornament. Owen Jones. The grammar of ornament

London-born but of Welsh descent, after serving his apprenticeship as an architect, Owen Jones (1809-1874) embarked on a tour of Egypt, Turkey and Spain in the company of French colleague, Jules Goury. With the aim of compiling a multi-volume work on the subject, the pair conducted an extensive survey of the Alhambra, the Moorish palace-citadel built on a hill overlooking Granada in the fourteenth century. After Goury died of cholera in 1834, Jones continued with the project, amidst other commitments, eventually publishing in 1845 a much-lauded collection of plans, elevations, sections and drawings of details, which was a landmark in the early British use of chromolithography.

A German invention of the late 1790s, lithography is a kind of book illustration that involves drawing images on flat stone slabs with greasy ink (an easier process than engraving on wood or etching on copper). Gradually developed through experimentation in the early decades of the nineteenth century, chromolithography is refinement of the process, allowing for full-colour illustrations by using separate stones for each colour.

Fine as Jones's Details and ornaments from the Alhambra was, however, an even more influential publication lay ahead. Convinced that ‘ornament should be based on geometry’, Jones remained a passionate advocate of Islamic and Eastern designs. In 1856 he produced his masterwork, The grammar of ornament, containing one hundred large full-colour folio plates filled with patterns gathered from his international researches. Produced with great care by master craftsmen, these plates sometimes contain as many as sixty different examples of historical ornamentation on a single page. Never before had so many reproductions in colour appeared in one book.

By the 1850s Jones had become a leading arbiter of Victorian taste. Appointed Superintendent of the Works at the Great Exhibition of 1851, he was also responsible for the interior decoration of the huge iron-and-glass Crystal Palace, thereby putting his theories into practice. Later designers pored over The grammar of ornament, borrowing ideas for wallpaper, carpets and furniture.

The Library's copy was a behest from the Scottish-born businessman and art collector James Tannock Mackelvie (1824-1885), who retained an affection for Auckland, where he made his fortune in the 1860s, even though he spent his later years in London.

Related resources: Our rare book collection includes illustrated books using lithographs.  

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