The Grammar of Ornament is one of the defining
works in decorative arts, the masterwork of Welsh architect and
interior designer Owen Jones (1809-74), whose grand tour of Turkey,
Egypt, Sicily, and Spain in 1831 marked the beginning of his fascination
with illustrations of ornament. His aim was not to produce general artistic
views, but to provide scientific accuracy in reproducing his exact and
detailed records of colors and patterns. No printer in London at the
time could meet Jones requirements, and eventually he set up his
own press to produce the 110 magnificent chromolithographs reproduced
These stunning images, often containing dozens of individual figures, depict
the architectural ornament and decorative detail of many countries and
peoples, ancient and modern, from aboriginal groups through Egypt, Babylon,
Persia, and Rome, to Turkey and China. Jones illustrations are
an essential picture book, offering the supreme expression of Victorian
taste in historical decoration, and they continue to serve as a definitive
source of reference and inspiration for designers. This Octavo Edition
reproduces Jones prints with perfect fidelity to every nuance
of the rare originals.
The original book imaged for this digital edition:
9 3/4 x 13 9/16 inches (248 x 344 mm)
One of the many contributors to Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament (1856) was Henry Cole, the founder of the Victoria & Albert Museum. A civil servant whose career was distinguished by its enormous energy and range of interests, Cole organized the Public Record Office, introduced penny postage in Britain, and – under the title of “Summerly’s Art Manufactures” – persuaded artists into industry to improve public taste. In 1845 he invented the Christmas card, with a design commissioned from J.C. Horsley.
The Grammar of Ornament is by any standards a remarkable book, showing for the first time in 1856 so many illustrations of ornament from such a variety of periods and countries, published in color and collected in one work of stunning chromolithographic prints. It was the concept of a young Welsh architect, Owen Jones (1809-74), who at the age of twenty-three went on his grand tour to visit Turkey, Egypt, Sicily, and Spain. In 1866, Jones exploited the medium of chromolithography further to produce a subsequent book, Scenes from the Winter’s Tale. Since even the text is drawn, this book owes nothing to traditional book design based on metal type. Here is a new conception of book design, which prefigures the Kelmscott Press books of thirty years later. In some of the floral borders there is even a general resemblance to certain of William Morris’ wallpaper designs. Jones, after his work on the Great Exhibition interiors and his designing of the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Alhambra courts when the Crystal Palace was moved to Sydenham, had been much engaged in interior decorating for private houses, and for the palace of the Viceroy of Egypt. He designed many patterns for wallpapers, now in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
For many people, especially in late nineteenth-century America, the
economies that chromolithography brought to color printing made it possible
to own a famous work of art, even if it was a reproduction. Inevitably,
even that novelty wore off. The process was co-opted by advertisers and
became identified more with commercial art than with fine art. Ironically,
some of the most exceptional work was being done just as critics of
chromolithography were decrying what they perceived as its attempts to
supplant real art. Looking back now on the manifold accomplishments of the
chromolithographers, such criticism seems petty, and the bright colors of
their images command admiration and respect. Anyone in doubt need only
examine The Grammar of Ornament.