Plaster Cornices » History of Architectural Ornaments: Antiquity

History of Architectural Ornaments: Antiquity

People began using ornaments to embellish objects as soon as we learned to manipulate bronze and iron properties. Through casting, melting, forging, and bonding, early craftsmen and artists started putting embellishments on cooking utensils and other everyday items that are mostly made from bronze and iron materials. During this period, ornaments with geometric and linear designs began to emerge. Many antique ornaments from the Bronze and Iron Age often feature zigzag or wavy lines, circles, and diamond-shaped patterns.


Distinctive Ornament Features in Early Civilizations

Ancient Egypt

The scarcity of trees in ancient Egypt has prevented the extensive use of wood as the primary material for construction and making artworks and ornaments. However, the abundance of clay deposited by the Nile River has made ceramic art possible. Egyptian architectural design often feature fine sandstone, limestone, sun-dried and kiln-dried clay bricks, and granite to create structures, obelisks, sculptures, and decorative ornaments.

The ornaments found during the period often featured vertical lines and various figural ornaments based on animals, humans, and a combination of both, like the bull heads, snakes, and the famous winged sun disk. Egyptian ornaments in those days also often featured plants and other organic materials like lotus and papyrus. The types of architectural ornaments generally produced in the era was geometric and ornamental plants, or a combination of both. Architectural trends during the time include flat, angular, concave, and beaded designs.


Assyria and Babylonia

Ornaments in Assyria and Babylonia often feature lotus rosettes, semi-rosettes, buttons, pine cones, and segments. Although many of these countries’ ornaments are heavily influenced by Egyptian design, the development of plastic has allowed many craftsmen and artists of the era to incorporate the new material into their ornamental designs. Weaving pattern ornaments also became popular in the region, adding flavor to the then conventional geometric ornaments.



Embellishments and artwork found in the island of Crete are influenced by the styles of Egypt and Greece, with ornaments featuring organic materials, scrolls, circular and spiral patterns. The overall theme of the architectural artwork is more natural with fine and colorful elements. Accessories like lilies and other flowers were often used, paving the way for plant-themed ornaments.



Architectural ornaments from Greece can be divided into three basic styles; geometric, oriental, and archaic Greek and mature Greek ornament styles. Geometric Style ornaments focuses on the conventional geometric patterns and distinctive designs of the day. In this design, you will often find straight lines and right angles. Oriental Style ornaments carry design influences from Asia Minor and Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). Such ornaments often feature full-coverage prints and the continuous and staggered-continuous rhythm. This is the dawn of the chipped pattern or angular design ornament. Popular styles include figural ornaments like the sphinx, harpies, birds, and sirens. Ground design elements feature stars, rosettes, spirals, and roundabouts.

Archaic Greek/Mature Greek Style ornaments combine conventional patterns like scrolls and spirals with design elements that include diamonds, meander, palmettes, and checkerboard. Painted and engraved patterns that commonly appear in ornamental vases and other forms of artwork during the time is also found in the architectural ornaments.



Rome’s art types differ and change. They are generally accented and derivative. Art in Rome served a higher purpose; they carried messages like values and power. Most of Roman art is a mix or combination of two styles.


Gothic Ornament

Gothic ornaments were heavily evolved from Romanesque art. They, however, did not include Arabic elements. The most popular ornaments had elements like thistle-like leaves or cabbage leaves. The motifs were generally geometric and architectural, with a lot of hexagonal rods.


Islamic Ornament

The identity of Islamic ornaments started developing in the 8th century. These ornaments were distinct because they did not follow a specific motif. There were no animal figures, flowers, or leafs. Islamic ornaments featured drawn calligraphy and stylized writing.



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