Exploring Decorative Meanders

Fig. 1 – Plate 10, from A Collection of Vases, Altars, Paterae, Tripods, Candelabra Sarcophagi, &c. from Various Museums and Collections (1814), by Henry Moses. This hydria vessel is decorated with several meander motifs including vertical Vitruvian scrolls and stopped Greek key.

Good design never dies, it just gets recycled. Every major period in the decorative arts since the early 18th century has been a reintroduction of themes and motifs found in the arts or architecture of earlier periods.  Ironically, every reinterpretation of a style seems to lead us further from the original meaning of the style’s decorative motifs, insofar as they are known or can be known.

Typically, design elements having broad visual appeal warrant enough attention to be revisited. Consider the craze for all things Gothic during the mid-18th century and then again in the mid-19th century. The trefoils, quatrefoils, Gothic arches and cusps applied to early Georgian (Rococo or Chippendale) and later to Gothic Revival furnishings were liberally borrowed from medieval architecture completed 500 years before the publication of Chippendale’s Director.

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