Wednesday, November 21, 2012

69. Scale patterns

The decorative scale pattern dates back to ancient civilizations. Examples can be seen in any museum, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Scale pattern on a terracotta painted oil flask, ca. 640-625 BC (© The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The scale pattern occurs in several versions. On a terracotta painted oil flask, an aryballos from the seventh century BC, the scale pattern comes with dots in the centre. Others have a blank space, signs or stripes in the middle. The dotted pattern has been used for pottery in Greece since around 2500 BC.

It has been a common decorative pattern to the present day. On our recent trip to Athens we saw a modern carpet with the scale pattern in the Nikos Chatzikyriakos Gikas museum. On the top floors, where one finds the artist's library and his studio, the carpet adorns one of the rooms that are left in the original state.

Carpet, Nikos Chatzikyriakos Gikas Museum, Athens
The dotted scale pattern has also been applied on bookbindings. Charles Ricketts used it for several designs for commercial publishers in the early twentieth century. One of his lesser known designs was for a short-lived series of anthologies for John Lane (between 1907 and 1910). At the bottom of the front cover three sets of dotted scales are seen, probably representing earth - this is part of a stylized wheat pattern.
Charles Ricketts, binding for Golden thoughts from the Gospels (1907) [detail]
Ricketts used this pattern - sometimes upside down - for several books, the collected works of W.B. Yeats among them. The pattern can easily be identified on the dust wrappers for these volumes, where it is located in an architectural form, a pediment, used on all four sides of the central panel with concentric circles.
Charles Ricketts, design for the binding and dust wrapper of W.B. Yeats, Essays (1924) [detail]
To fill in the spaces left between the round forms of the scales and the straight, triangular lines of the pediments, Ricketts has added two extra dots outside the scale forms, thus illustrating that the use of an ancient pattern needs revision and original adaptations for reuse.

Charles Ricketts, design for the binding and dust wrapper of W.B. Yeats, Essays (1924) [detail]