Friday, 8 August 2014

The Grammar of Ornament

The Grammar of Ornament was essentially a book comprising of design sources published in 1856 and put together by Owen Jones, an English-born architect with Welsh ancestry. 

The publication roughly coincides with the formation of the Victorian and Albert museum in South Kensington (formally a run down suburb of London called Brompton). 

Owen Jones was born in 1809 and died in 1874. He was an important figure in the Design Reform Movement which was largely concerned with the improvement of British design and manufacture via a new set of design principles. The main principle which is evident in his book is that design must be stylised - thus two dimensional and simple. 

This fits in nicely with the work of Henry Cole, of whom was the first director of the V&A. Before he became the director, he was the head of the Museum of Ornamental Art at Marlborough house. It was here, after having worked closely together at the Great Exhibition of 1851, that Jones advised Cole on his collection to be displayed; more importantly, what was to be displayed in the Chamber of Horrors. The Chamber of Horrors was the name coined by Charles Dickens for the room within the museum that displayed examples of bad design. This was to (hopefully) inspire the new generation of designers to steer clear of what was considered bad design - the bad design of which was considered to be a contributing factor to the triumph of French design (and others!) over British Design at the Great Exhibition.

Despite the intention to inspire a whole generation through one house in the middle of London, the reality of it was that the location was not always accessible. The Schools of design (of which Jones was a visiting lecturer and closely tied) were logically the target audience. However the location of the schools were spread nation wide because manufacture was increasingly the speciality of the northern counties. London based industry began to slow down and would struggle to catch up with their northern neighbours later on during the late Victorian Period as London resisted machinery in turn for traditional practices amid an escalating social crisis. How then, could he disseminate good design in an effective way and ensure England was at the forefront of international design? The answer was: The Grammar of Ornament.

Two of his most notable influences were Medieval and Islamic design. Many (note-not all!) people at this time were inspired by medieval art and culture as industrial England left them feeling a little nostalgic. What had happened to the cute little vernacular practices and the good ol countryside? Medieval culture came to embody this. In terms of the Islamic design, Jones had visited Granada and most importantly the Alhambra; he was one of the many people (myself included) to be enchanted by the place and wanted to show everyone at home what it looked like.
Below I have uploaded a few pictures I took of the Grammar of Ornament whilst at the prints room of the V&A with my class and lecturer.

Have a butchers here for the collection at the V&A and here to read up on the Alhambra. 

Beautiful aren't they! 

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