Two Scales, and Kinds of Ornament

In the course of the design development in the office, a bit of quick research on the Egyptian Palm Capital was called for: a few images, so as to direct the painting of a stylized Palm Capital by our interior decorator, in our case to be realized in a Art-Deco manner. 

As, in the original context, the top surfaces of the capital are modeled not just through pigment, but also three-dimensionally, yet ours could not be, and also to give our painter some creative scope, a broader collection of Egyptian Capitals was provided, with some of the designs painted onto an un-modeled conical surface, usually of the Open Papyrus Type.

What follows are some reflections occasioned by that initial set of images. Enjoy!

The Egyptian Palm Capital, already in its fully developed form, goes back to the Old Kingdom.  It continued to be used, as one of a set of plantiform capital types, throughout the course of Egyptian History, even to the Ptolemaic and Roman period.  Here we see it in one of its late manifestations at the Temple of Isis from Philae.

The Egyptian Palm Capital, already in its fully developed form, goes back to the Old Kingdom.  It continued to be used, as one of a set of plantiform capital types, throughout the course of Egyptian History, even to the Ptolemaic and Roman period. 

Here we see it in one of its late manifestations at the Temple of Isis from Philae.

These plates are derived from various recensions of 19th century studies, such as the Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien by Karl Richard Lepsius and The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones. They allow us a glimpse into the multiplicity of Egyptian capital types, even when restricted only to the plantiform.

These plates are derived from various recensions of 19th century studies, such as the Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien by Karl Richard Lepsius and The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones. They allow us a glimpse into the multiplicity of Egyptian capital types, even when restricted only to the plantiform.

With this image from Auguste Racinet's L'Ornement Polychrom, we see the stylized Papyrus on the right and Lotus on the left framing a few of their classic respective foreground monumental manifestations.  The Palm capital below stands out as not belonging to this family.  Yet it cannot be ignored as starting in the early Old Kingdom it was the dominant column type at various periods . 

With this image from Auguste Racinet's L'Ornement Polychrom, we see the stylized Papyrus on the right and Lotus on the left framing a few of their classic respective foreground monumental manifestations.  The Palm capital below stands out as not belonging to this family.  Yet it cannot be ignored as starting in the early Old Kingdom it was the dominant column type at various periods . 

However great the apparent family resemblance, this is not a yet more stylized Egyptian capital.  It is chronologically and geographically substantially distant, Ancient Greek.  It was found in Athens, Greece and dates to the second century B.C..  It belongs to the Stoa of Attalos II, and is the capital of the inner columns of its second story. 

However great the apparent family resemblance, this is not a yet more stylized Egyptian capital.  It is chronologically and geographically substantially distant, Ancient Greek. 

It was found in Athens, Greece and dates to the second century B.C..  It belongs to the Stoa of Attalos II, and is the capital of the inner columns of its second story. 

In Athens, it is related to a capital type usually associated with this building, called, since the eighteenth century, the Tower of the Winds, after the sculptures of the celebrated ancient eight winds on its eight faces. 

In Athens, it is related to a capital type usually associated with this building, called, since the eighteenth century, the Tower of the Winds, after the sculptures of the celebrated ancient eight winds on its eight faces. 

This is a far more familiar image of this building, from Stuart & Revetts's The Antiquities of Athens, showing the building as restored. The porticoes were interpolated from traces on the body of the building and architectural fragments found in the vicinity of the monument.

This is a far more familiar image of this building, from Stuart & Revetts's The Antiquities of Athens, showing the building as restored.

The porticoes were interpolated from traces on the body of the building and architectural fragments found in the vicinity of the monument.

This image shows the Capital of the porches in relation to its Entablature and Shaft.  This plate would have a huge influence on American architecture in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, especially in the South.  As a result, today we call this capital type the Tower of the Winds Order.

This image shows the Capital of the porches in relation to its Entablature and Shaft.  This plate would have a huge influence on American architecture in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, especially in the South.  As a result, today we call this capital type the Tower of the Winds Order.

However, as this photograph attests, in Athens there survive many versions of this capital type.  This set is found right next to our tower, and within the archeological zone of the Roman Agora.  In the scholarly literature our capital is usually referred to as belonging to the Pergamene Type.  So many manifestations of this capital were found in the site of the ancient city of Pergamon by the German archaeologists who first excavated there, that they concluded this type was first created in this major Hellenistic City. 

However, as this photograph attests, in Athens there survive many versions of this capital type.  This set is found right next to our tower, and within the archeological zone of the Roman Agora. 

In the scholarly literature our capital is usually referred to as belonging to the Pergamene Type.  So many manifestations of this capital were found in the site of the ancient city of Pergamon by the German archaeologists who first excavated there, that they concluded this type was first created in this major Hellenistic City. 

However, earlier in the nineteenth century Charles Cockerell came across, and published a similar capital from the lower sanctuary at Delphi which turned out to be centuries older than those at Pergamon or Athens. It belongs to the Treasury of the Massaliots, dated to the late Archaic period.

However, earlier in the nineteenth century Charles Cockerell came across, and published a similar capital from the lower sanctuary at Delphi which turned out to be centuries older than those at Pergamon or Athens. It belongs to the Treasury of the Massaliots, dated to the late Archaic period.

Far older though, and from the island of Crete is a capital currently residing in the Herakleion Museum and found in the Ancient site of Arkades. Dating to the Bronze Age, which ended in 1200 B.C., it is a product of the culture of the Minoans, who ruled Crete throughout the Early and Middle Bronze Ages. On its abacus is found an ornamental motif, the spiraling wave pattern. This pattern is an ornamental motif which can be seen throughout the full spectrum Classical tradition, at all scales and across the full range of material artifacts. Whatever its origins in the bronze age might have been (it is already present in Paleolithic Art), for us it foregrounds the centrality of Motifs and Ornament in both Practice, and Reflection upon practice.

Far older though, and from the island of Crete is a capital currently residing in the Herakleion Museum and found in the Ancient site of Arkades. Dating to the Bronze Age, which ended in 1200 B.C., it is a product of the culture of the Minoans, who ruled Crete throughout the Early and Middle Bronze Ages.

On its abacus is found an ornamental motif, the spiraling wave pattern. This pattern is an ornamental motif which can be seen throughout the full spectrum Classical tradition, at all scales and across the full range of material artifacts.

Whatever its origins in the bronze age might have been (it is already present in Paleolithic Art), for us it foregrounds the centrality of Motifs and Ornament in both Practice, and Reflection upon practice.

So, what can this contemporary project, the Capital Gate Tower in Abu Dhabi contribute to the issue of Ornament, Motif, and meaning? At the very least, it strongly indicates that Robert Venturi was onto something important when he broadly categorized architectural forms into "Decorated sheds," or "Ducks" (Learning From Los Vegas, 1972/1977).  We need not unconditionally embrace the whole of his theory if we observe that the Capital Gate Tower is a "duck" of a striking sort.  While eschewing traditionally recognizable surface ornament, it itself is One Massive Piece of Ornament.

So, what can this contemporary project, the Capital Gate Tower in Abu Dhabi contribute to the issue of Ornament, Motif, and meaning?

At the very least, it strongly indicates that Robert Venturi was onto something important when he broadly categorized architectural forms into "Decorated sheds," or "Ducks" (Learning From Los Vegas, 1972/1977).  We need not unconditionally embrace the whole of his theory if we observe that the Capital Gate Tower is a "duck" of a striking sort.  While eschewing traditionally recognizable surface ornament, it itself is One Massive Piece of Ornament.

This section through the Capital Gate Tower, Abu Dhabi, a tour de force of engineering, comes with this illuminating passage; “It is the first building in the world to use a pre-cambered core with a built-in lean of 350 millimeters that has been engineered to straighten with the addition of the upper floors. It is also the first building in the world to use vertical post-tensioning of the core to counter movement and support stresses created by the building’s overhang.” - Jeff Schofield, Associate, RMJM   Celebrating the lengths to which its makers have resisted Gravity, the passage draws our attention to this buildings intrinsic meaning: that it is a Monumental Ornamental Motif which embodies the Denial of Natural Order. Far from escaping the Horizon of Ornament, this building falls wholly within the transgressive category of Sculpture Masquerading as Architecture. in Aristotelian (also Albertian) terms, Architecture, inhabiting the Mean between Geometry/Number and Sculptural/Iconic Form, any drift into these extremes becomes a Vice with respect to the Excellence that is Architecture. 

This section through the Capital Gate Tower, Abu Dhabi, a tour de force of engineering, comes with this illuminating passage; “It is the first building in the world to use a pre-cambered core with a built-in lean of 350 millimeters that has been engineered to straighten with the addition of the upper floors. It is also the first building in the world to use vertical post-tensioning of the core to counter movement and support stresses created by the building’s overhang.”

- Jeff Schofield, Associate, RMJM

 

Celebrating the lengths to which its makers have resisted Gravity, the passage draws our attention to this buildings intrinsic meaning: that it is a Monumental Ornamental Motif which embodies the Denial of Natural Order.

Far from escaping the Horizon of Ornament, this building falls wholly within the transgressive category of Sculpture Masquerading as Architecture. in Aristotelian (also Albertian) terms, Architecture, inhabiting the Mean between Geometry/Number and Sculptural/Iconic Form, any drift into these extremes becomes a Vice with respect to the Excellence that is Architecture. 

Here, in this Ancient Egyptian Icon, we see the Pharaoh Seti, the First of that Name, enacting The Mystery of the “Raising of the Djed” at his Temple to Osiris at Abydos.  This scene is found in the culminating Osiris Chapel.  The Djed Pillar is an Iconic Hieroglyphic form whose origin goes back to the very beginnings of Ancient Egyptian iconography. Note, Seti is Raising, not Lowering this Column, one here Crowned with the orb of Ra, the sun, in the form of a Royal Crown.

Here, in this Ancient Egyptian Icon, we see the Pharaoh Seti, the First of that Name, enacting The Mystery of the “Raising of the Djed” at his Temple to Osiris at Abydos.  This scene is found in the culminating Osiris Chapel.  The Djed Pillar is an Iconic Hieroglyphic form whose origin goes back to the very beginnings of Ancient Egyptian iconography.

Note, Seti is Raising, not Lowering this Column, one here Crowned with the orb of Ra, the sun, in the form of a Royal Crown.

In this next image, found in, Thebes, in the Valley of the Queens, in the tomb of Nefertari, the Consort of Seti-the-First's Successor, Ramses II, the Queen is represented making an Offering to the God Ptah, in the Form of Osiris, and standing before a Djed Pillar, while also holding a Djed Scepter.   The Djed is a multifaceted Hieroglyphic Form.  While intrinsically associated with Osiris, and concurrently signifying stability and continuity, is also found in the most fundamental of Iconic scenes, the Creation of the Cosmos, where among its various multivalent manifestations is its representing the Ur life-form emerging out of the primal mound. 

In this next image, found in, Thebes, in the Valley of the Queens, in the tomb of Nefertari, the Consort of Seti-the-First's Successor, Ramses II, the Queen is represented making an Offering to the God Ptah, in the Form of Osiris, and standing before a Djed Pillar, while also holding a Djed Scepter.  

The Djed is a multifaceted Hieroglyphic Form.  While intrinsically associated with Osiris, and concurrently signifying stability and continuity, is also found in the most fundamental of Iconic scenes, the Creation of the Cosmos, where among its various multivalent manifestations is its representing the Ur life-form emerging out of the primal mound. 

This gold signet ring, one of four recently discovered in Greece, near Nestor's Pylos, in a miraculously undisturbed tomb as a part of a burial of a wealthy Bronze Age Warrior, returns us to the world of the Minoans.  Minoan Crete, situated just across the sea from Egypt, traded with this most venerable Ancient Nile Civilization for the many centuries of the existence of the Minoan Sea Empire, from its infancy through to its fiery end.  While a culture long traveling its own distinct trajectory, the Minoans, and their immediate heirs, the Mycenaeans, could not but help to be drawn into the Egyptian cultural orbit, especially since the Egyptians had long attained their classic form while Crete was still emerging out of its Neolithic beginnings.  Thus, the challenging task of unraveling the mystery of the Minoans, given the lack of a surviving literature, necessarily includes a looking south to Ancient Egypt.  On this gold signet ring we see five elaborately dressed female figures, the three on the left apparently dancing, while the two on the right raise their right hands in a gesture of worship.  Both groups stand on the seashore, facing a mountainous landscape atop of which stands a shrine framed by Palm Trees, out of which grows some sort of bush.  Each element of this striking scene finds many parallels in surviving Minoan iconography.  The two emphatically present Palm Trees are striking in their computational preeminence, and in their naturalism.

This gold signet ring, one of four recently discovered in Greece, near Nestor's Pylos, in a miraculously undisturbed tomb as a part of a burial of a wealthy Bronze Age Warrior, returns us to the world of the Minoans. 

Minoan Crete, situated just across the sea from Egypt, traded with this most venerable Ancient Nile Civilization for the many centuries of the existence of the Minoan Sea Empire, from its infancy through to its fiery end.  While a culture long traveling its own distinct trajectory, the Minoans, and their immediate heirs, the Mycenaeans, could not but help to be drawn into the Egyptian cultural orbit, especially since the Egyptians had long attained their classic form while Crete was still emerging out of its Neolithic beginnings. 

Thus, the challenging task of unraveling the mystery of the Minoans, given the lack of a surviving literature, necessarily includes a looking south to Ancient Egypt. 

On this gold signet ring we see five elaborately dressed female figures, the three on the left apparently dancing, while the two on the right raise their right hands in a gesture of worship.  Both groups stand on the seashore, facing a mountainous landscape atop of which stands a shrine framed by Palm Trees, out of which grows some sort of bush.  Each element of this striking scene finds many parallels in surviving Minoan iconography. 

The two emphatically present Palm Trees are striking in their computational preeminence, and in their naturalism.

One of the treasures of the Heraklion Museum, on the north shore of Crete is this Columnar Lamp. The discovery and cultivation of the olive played a significant role in the emergence of the Aegean World in the Middle Bronze Age.  One of its primary objects of trade was olive oil, a marvelously versatile product.  One of its indispensable roles was providing light.  This lamp, in its columnar form and capital, directly calls to mind one distinct type of Ancient Egyptian Plant-Form Column.  Note how it both emphatically stands, yet soars, while it gently cradles its basin of oil for its glowing overhanging wicks.  It would appear that the capital is comprised of overhanging palm fronds. 

One of the treasures of the Heraklion Museum, on the north shore of Crete is this Columnar Lamp. The discovery and cultivation of the olive played a significant role in the emergence of the Aegean World in the Middle Bronze Age.  One of its primary objects of trade was olive oil, a marvelously versatile product.  One of its indispensable roles was providing light. 

This lamp, in its columnar form and capital, directly calls to mind one distinct type of Ancient Egyptian Plant-Form Column. 

Note how it both emphatically stands, yet soars, while it gently cradles its basin of oil for its glowing overhanging wicks.  It would appear that the capital is comprised of overhanging palm fronds. 

In the context of all the above, the wobbling Capital Gate Tower in Abu Dhabi speaks of a distinct take on an Architecture in its World.  For the moment, let us enjoy in this image the line of palm trees, valiantly holding their own in the looming presence of this strange thing, which somehow stand while threatening to fall.

In the context of all the above, the wobbling Capital Gate Tower in Abu Dhabi speaks of a distinct take on an Architecture in its World.  For the moment, let us enjoy in this image the line of palm trees, valiantly holding their own in the looming presence of this strange thing, which somehow stand while threatening to fall.

Our initial set of Images, however, offered in all innocence but the call of urgent pragmatism, to guide an artist in realizing a contemporary bit of architectural ornament (a capital in a current project in our office), nonetheless cannot escape the nexus of meaning in which all human fashioning is embedded.  A closing image for this first blog posting, a Minoan ceramic jar (there are stone ones as well) also from the Heraklion Museum in Crete, this one dated to circa 1700-1650 B.C..  One distinctive aspect of Minoan Art is its apparent Naturalism.  Here we have, on this artifact, depicted undeniable Palm Trees.  And yet, in this same art we see this form as the ubiquitous Palmette, bridging the Bronze Age and succeeding Worlds: all these forms, Motifs and Ornaments. From Henry hope Reed, Jr.'s, The Golden City, of 1959, when the so called Modern Movement was in its early unchallenged ascendancy: "A building without ornament , said George Santayana, is like the heaven without stars.  And an architecture without ornament is no architecture at all."

Our initial set of Images, however, offered in all innocence but the call of urgent pragmatism, to guide an artist in realizing a contemporary bit of architectural ornament (a capital in a current project in our office), nonetheless cannot escape the nexus of meaning in which all human fashioning is embedded. 

A closing image for this first blog posting, a Minoan ceramic jar (there are stone ones as well) also from the Heraklion Museum in Crete, this one dated to circa 1700-1650 B.C.. 

One distinctive aspect of Minoan Art is its apparent Naturalism.  Here we have, on this artifact, depicted undeniable Palm Trees.  And yet, in this same art we see this form as the ubiquitous Palmette, bridging the Bronze Age and succeeding Worlds: all these forms, Motifs and Ornaments.

From Henry hope Reed, Jr.'s, The Golden City, of 1959, when the so called Modern Movement was in its early unchallenged ascendancy:

"A building without ornament , said George Santayana, is like the heaven without stars.  And an architecture without ornament is no architecture at all."