24 February 2015

Decorative Arts

Decorative Arts
Decorative Arts From The Middle Ages To The Renaissance: The Complete Plates contains all the illustrations from Kunstewerke & Gerathschaften Des Mittelalters & Der Renaissance, first published in three volumes (1852, 1857, and 1863). Like other Taschen reprints (such as the Atlas Maior), this is a lavish, folio-sized book, with several fold-out pages.

Kunstewerke & Gerathschaften was illustrated with hand-coloured copperplate engravings, many of which were produced by Jakob Heinrich von Hefner-Alteneck. In the original publication, he is listed as co-author alongside Carl Becker; in the introduction to Decorative Arts, Hefner-Alteneck is recognised as the primary author, though strangely Taschen gives Becker sole credit on the cover.

Shortly after the first volume of Kunstewerke & Gerathschaften, Owen Jones pioneered the use of chromolithography with The Grammar Of Ornament. Jones was concerned with ornamental patterns, reproducing isolated details and motifs, though Becker and Hefner-Alteneck focused on decorative artefacts themselves, celebrating them as objects d'art.

Decorative Arts was edited by Carsten-Peter Warncke, co-author of Codices Illustres (reissued as Masterpieces Of Illumination) and a two-volume Picasso monograph. In his introduction, he quotes Becker and Hefner-Alteneck's aim of presenting objects "whether they be everyday or luxury items, for ecclesiastical or secular purposes". This inclusive approach made Kunstewerke & Gerathschaften particularly useful as a survey of applied arts, as it was not limited only to the realms of liturgy or nobility.

Pat Kirkham and Susan Weber's definitive History Of Design begins in 1400, thus there is some overlap with Kunstewerke & Gerathschaften. John Fleming and Hugh Honour's encyclopedic Dictionary Of Decorative Arts covers a wider historical period, as does Judith Williams's glossy Decorative Arts.