Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Arabian Antiquities of Spain

My daughter thinks I should write about a girl who finds a million dollars and spends it all on a Shetland pony. I pointed out that in a Universe that's expanding infinitely in all directions, it's unreasonable to seek gratification from material objects, especially ponies. Then she punched me in the stomach.

But it's true that it's hard to know what to write about. Take a post about the book Arabian Antiquities of Spain (1815); it could be about murals, designing tessellations, Islamic Architecture and the Alhambra, or the history of Orientalism in Western Art. There's just too much good stuff out there. Sorry, but ponies are way down on the list.

In the meantime, these incredible etchings could serve as a complete source for any mural or stencil.

I posted a whole set of large images from this book here, illustrated beautifully by James Cavanah Murphy. Poor bugger died a year after this book came out, apparently he "fell a victim to his labours."

Just in case you're feeling a little too lazy to draw these patterns yourself; here is one as an Illustrator file. Nice! Dover has of course published a book on Islamic designs with a CD containing a ton of vector art, so you could go that route.

Or you could buy and download SymmetryWorks by Artlandia; an amazing little plug-in for Illustrator that enables you to create any kind of pattern. Great for wallpaper designers or for those tricky Islamic patterns. Beats learning Geometry.

For those interested in the patterns of the Alhambra, there is a fantastic textbook on designing tessellations called, not very surprisingly, Designing Tessellations, by Jinny Beyer. And it's not just for quilters and Escher freaks. The Mathematics is understandable, and the lessons valuable. Here's a sample page from the book.

I found a great Illustrator file online of a Hilbert Curve. Open it and have fun, but whatever you do, don't try following that line with your eye! This would make a great standing screen if you laser-cut the design out of wood.

Lewis F. Day writes in Pattern Design about the development of the 'Arab lattice':

Well, the way this post unfolded, I guess it's about Islamic pattern. I'll just have to do a different one on the subject of the dubiously named 'Orientalist' painters of the 19th Century.

By the way, there's a great book called The Alhambra, downloadable in it's entirety for free here. When I say 'great' I mean it's got a great set of plates. It's unreadable garbage, written by one of those toffee-nosed prats who fancied themselves as 'Oriental', as in this image of it's Victorian author, Albert T. Calvert, in full regalia.

But now I'm digressing. I'll save that for later.


  1. Superb, as usual! Those engravings are rich with detail. Thanks!


  2. Keith Critchlow, former professor of islamic Arts at the Royal College of Art in London, has done a wonderful study from a slightly more esoteric perspective. His book entitled: "Islamic patterns: An analytical and Cosmological Approach" is a treasure for both mind and eye.

    There is another extremely useful work called "Arabesques. Decorative Art of Morocco" that is thick and full of exquisitely detailed construction and analytic drawings of the entire schema of this type of ornament.

    Both available on Amazon and easy to find.

    One thing I have always loved and valued in the software world for exploring symmetry & tilings in pattern are the programs made by Artlandia. (www.artlandia.com)

    They have SymmetryWorks as a plug in for Illustrator and SymmetryShop as an image based tiler for use within Photoshop. Strong stuff for the serious surface designer. Lewis F. Day would have loved them.

    Alan, you sit on your own mountain of gold and generously share it.

    Thanks so much for that.


    -- M

  3. "The Universe cannot be read until we have learned the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word". – Galileo Galilei

    Thanks again for your insights Mark, you're tempting me to go beyond the surface. Maybe I'll have to change the name of the Blog!

  4. Thanks for sharing these fantastic pattern designs. These patterns would be very useful for the designers. Great job!

  5. Very helpful reference

    Thank you very much for sharing all of that here and in ur flicker page .. AMAZING effort : )



  6. i went to the Alhambra last year so i am very interested in this post. thanks for sharing!

  7. can i copy this atricale to my blog i will put reference to u

  8. I discovered this post because I was googling examples of Jinny Beyer's quilting tessellations - and I'm enamored with your blog and your writing style! Thank you for sharing so many fantastic photos and resources. I've skimmed your back posts and I'll be reading many of them in-depth as well as reading your blog regularly.

  9. You've become quite the art historian lately! I love the stories and Bellini's Doge sends me into orbit. Can't wait for second installment. Thanks!
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