Hong Kong Tatler - - Trends -

It was a com­plete se­ries of L’orne­ment Poly­chrome by French artist, art his­to­rian and pub­li­cist Al­bert Charles Au­guste Racinet. The book con­sists of 100 plates that were pub­lished in 10 parts be­tween 1869 and 1873; a sec­ond edi­tion of 120 plates, was pub­lished in 1875. The in­spi­ra­tional guide brings the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal art and poly­chromy of the past into the present.

As an art his­to­rian and an an­tique jew­ellery spe­cial­ist, I knew a col­lec­tion of this sort was valu­able, both mon­e­tar­ily and his­tor­i­cally. Buy­ing it was the only op­tion—and I did. I cut a deal with the seller and took my trea­sure, wrapped in an or­di­nary plas­tic bag, home.

When Racinet com­piled L’orne­ment Poly­chrome, it was an era of dis­cov­ery, progress and in­ven­tion. With the con­struc­tion of the Suez Canal in the 1860s, the jour­ney be­tween Europe and Asia sud­denly be­came much shorter, open­ing up hitherto in­ac­ces­si­ble worlds for many trav­ellers. That same decade saw ma­jor ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tions tak­ing place in Egypt, and in Italy at Her­cu­la­neum and Pom­peii, re­veal­ing long-lost arte­facts to the Euro­pean public. Etr­uscan pieces were brought back to Europe, and in­ter­est in the clas­si­cal, me­dieval and Re­nais­sance pe­ri­ods saw a strong re­vival.

The arts were af­fected sig­nif­i­cantly by these dis­cov­er­ies, as ar­chi­tects, artists, dec­o­ra­tors and jew­ellers be­came in­ter­ested in re­viv­ing an­cient tech­niques and mo­tifs, cre­at­ing pieces that im­i­tated or re­sem­bled clas­si­cal styles. The work of Racinet supplied the needed in­for­ma­tion on those ar­chae­o­log­i­cal arts at the time. With Racinet as cre­ative di­rec­tor, more than 20 distin­guished artists con­trib­uted to the first vol­ume of L’orne­ment Poly­chrome, cre­at­ing a mas­ter­piece that would prove to in­spire many artists and de­sign­ers of the 19th cen­tury.

It cer­tainly inspired me to comb through jew­ellery ar­chives to find amaz­ing pieces that make L’orne­ment Poly­chrome’s won­der­ful pat­terns come to life. Ev­ery one of Racinet’s prints re­veal a deep re­la­tion­ship be­tween jew­ellery and or­na­men­ta­tion within the same eras, retelling history through pat­terns and gems.

lithog­ra­phy by f Durin

Pas­tel green forms the back­ground for an ar­ray of swirly Chi­nese mo­tifs. Like a Miró paint­ing, the lo­tus flow­ers, pe­onies, rib­bons, leaves, tea cad­dies, snuff boxes and pa­per scrolls float around on the colour. In con­trast to the float­ing mo­tifs on pas­tel green, the yel­low ochre pro­vides a more sta­ble back­ground, where the pink pe­onies and blue flow­ers, to­gether with two ge­o­met­ri­cal Chi­nese-style

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