Dolmetsch’s Ornamentenschatz


If Racinet’s Polychromatic Ornament (1869–1873) was the French answer to The Grammar of Ornament (1856) by Owen Jones, then Heinrich Dolmetsch’s Der Ornamentenschatz (1887) is the German response to both, an equally lavish collection of colour plates showing ornamental decoration through the ages. Dolmetsch’s book follows the same chronological format as its counterparts, the main difference being an emphasis on objects as much as patterns or small portions of design. And being a German book, there’s rather more attention given to the German Renaissance than you might find elsewhere.





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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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The Grammar of Ornament revisited


I’ve owned a facsimile of Owen Jones’ study of ornamental design for many years. Jones was an architect who helped in the planning of London’s Great Exhibition in 1851, and in the subsequent development of the Victoria & Albert Museum. The Grammar of Ornament (1856) originated from this work, a lavish guide to the history of ornament through the ages, and from all parts of the world. My facsimile is a large, heavy and unwieldy volume: nice to look at but difficult to use. One of the earliest posts here linked to an online copy but a recent addition to the archives at the University of Heidelberg is better quality, and also much more accessible.

What I’m hoping for now is that someone will do the same for Auguste Racinet’s Polychrome Ornament (1877), a book inspired by The Grammar of Ornament‘s example which is even more lavish. This Flickr set has copies of the plates but when anything at Flickr can be deleted on a whim it’s always better to have an alternative available.




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