Racinet’s Polychromatic Ornament


The publication of Owen Jones’ landmark volume, The Grammar of Ornament (1856), prompted decoration curators in other countries to try their hands at equally lavish collections of historic ornament. The first edition of Auguste Racinet’s L’Ornement Polychrome was published by Firmin-Didot from 1869–1873; a second edition appeared in 1885–1887. The plates here are from a British reprinting of the first edition from 1877, and are a recent addition to the Internet Archive’s collection of scanned volumes. I’d seen some of these plates before in a Flickr set but you can’t always trust Flickr users to upload a complete collection of anything (or label things adequately), and the set omitted the introductory material.


Racinet’s book follows the format of Jones’ plates in attempting to represent multiple examples of a historic period (or a regional style) on a single page, but does so with greater ingenuity. Many of the pages achieve this so well that they’re notable pieces of design in themselves. Another thing the Jones and Racinet volumes share which we miss is the metallic inks; Racinet’s pages are embellished in gold and silver which reproduce here as brown and grey. Some scanned books really need to be seen in their original printings.




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