Journal Article

<i>The Grammar of Ornament</i>: Cosmopolitanism and Reform in British Design

Stacey Sloboda

in Journal of Design History

Published on behalf of Design History Society

Volume 21, issue 3, pages 223-236
Published in print January 2008 | ISSN: 0952-4649
Published online January 2008 | e-ISSN: 1741-7279 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jdh/epn025
The Grammar of Ornament: Cosmopolitanism and Reform in British Design

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At the Great Exhibition in 1851, British designers were rendered mute in the face of overwhelming evidence that nearly every country in the world had a more coherent and culturally integrated style of design than that of Victorian Britain. One response by reformers in Britain was to create a modern language of design based on studies of international and historical ornament. Among the most important results of this effort was the orientalist scholar and architect Owen Jones’ 1856 publication, The Grammar of Ornament. The book contained 100 dazzling chromolithograph plates of multiple examples of patterns from around the world and a series of ‘Propositions’ that codified universal principles of design under the unifying term of ‘nature’. This article contends that The Grammar of Ornament was an explicitly cosmopolitan text that attempted to synthesize the industrial and imperial ethos of the period through universal principles of design. Understanding Jones’ work, and the design reform movement more broadly, in terms of cosmopolitanism offers a richer awareness of the complex interplay of stylistic influence and mastery at work in the industrial and imperial design culture of mid-Victorian Britain.

Keywords: Design reform movement; imperialism; internationalism; Jones, Owen; ornament; pattern books

Journal Article.  7420 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Art ; Art Forms ; Industrial and Commercial Art ; Art Styles

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