Illustration: Mexican Ornament from Owen Jones The Grammar of Ornament, 1856.
Perhaps one of the seemingly oddest incorporations in Owen Jones The Grammar of Ornament published in 1856 was that of Mexican ornament. Interestingly, but perhaps puzzlingly, Jones placed his illustrations towards what he called Mexican ornament within the chapter dealing with Greek ornament. It seems as if Jones had little or no real concrete information regarding Mexican decorative effects and techniques and had trouble finding a fitting place in his book for the subject. That he felt the need to include any information at all on the subject is credit to Jones.
The illustrations which only take up one black and white page in Jones The Grammar of Ornament, where all other decorative cultural work was produced in glorious and luxurious colour, was derived from illustrations seen on various ceramic works found at the British Museum. Jones placed this page within the chapter dealing with Greek ornamentation because he felt that there were certain similarities between the patternwork of the two cultures.
This in no way implies that Jones at any time dealt with the possibility that Mexican or Greek cultures were ever in contact with each other. Theories such as this and many more that were even less conceivable were rife throughout the Victorian era and were indeed still being put forward as viable explanations well into the twentieth century. Jones found it interesting that different cultures could arrive at some similar forms of decoration and ornamentation. That he thought it was either purely coincidence or perhaps even part of a more basic human understanding of the rules of pattern and decoration, was the position that Jones took towards the origins of most of the forms of decoration that he came across around the planet, admittedly mostly seen within the confines of London museums.
It would appear that Jones would have been keen to have explored and expanded a section on Mexican ornament, even though at the time there was some confusion in Europe as to what was actually meant by Mexican. Work was still very much in progress towards the disentangling of all the numerous peoples, history and empires of Central America. Jones would have been aware of the American explorer John Stephens and the British illustrator Frederick Catherwood and the books published in the early 1840s concerning their explorations in Mexico. Why Jones did not include and incorporate some of the illustrations and elements of these books is unclear. It may well have been a simple matter of copyright, or the fact that there was clearly so little information available in which Jones felt that he could place any critical trust. Perhaps Jones felt he was on potentially unsure ground concerning a culture, and indeed more a patchwork of cultures, that Europe at the time still knew little if anything of substance concerning this area of the planet and the history of its decoration and ornament.
Whatever the reason, by including at least an element concerning the decorative and ornamental history of Central America, Jones was placing an emphasis, however small, on an area of the world that was to eventually significantly expand the vocabulary of human decorative arts.
Further reading links:
Grammar of Ornament: A Monumental Work of Art
Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Vols. I and II
Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (Volume 2)
Aztec and Mexican Indian Desig (International Design Library)
The Pre-Columbian Painting Murals of the Mesoamerica: Murals of the Mesoamerica
Aztec Designs (Design Library)
The Art of Mesoamerica: From Olmec to Aztec (World of Art)
The Art & Architecture of the Aztec & Maya: An illustrated encyclopedia of the buildings, sculptures and art of the peoples of Mesoamerica, with over ... of ancient Mexico and central America
The Codex Borgia: A Full-Color Restoration of the Ancient Mexican Manuscript
Design Motifs of Ancient Mexico CD-ROM and Book (Dover Electronic Clip Art)
Arts and Crafts of the Aztecs and Maya (Arts & Crafts of the Ancient World)
Art of Aztec Mexico: Treasures of Tenochtitlan
Maya Art and Architecture (World of Art)
Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya
Art of the Maya Scribe
Painting the Maya Universe: Royal Ceramics of the Classic Period (Duke University Museum of Art)