European Ornamental Prints

Compiled, researched, adapted, organized, and annotated by Mariano Akerman

Marco Dente (after Raphael), Half Figure (Grotesque), ornamental engraving, early 16th century

Intriguing as they are, European ornamental prints include designs by some of the most important painters and graphic artists of their time in Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. All of them cultivated the art of free ornamental design in ornamental prints dating from the 15th to the 18th centuries. The central theme of such prints was a sort of ornament which derived from antique times, and was to reappeared in every century: the grotesque. The rediscovery of the Domus Aurea shortly before 1500 opened a new chapter in the history of ornament. Its bizarre mural and ceiling frescoes, with their multifarious hybrid beings and unexpected configurations of flowering vines and mythical creatures, inspired the imagination of many Renaissance artists. Thanks to the development of the print, the grotesque became a dominant ornamental all across Europe.

Lucas Hugensz van Leyden (1489-1533), Ornamental Panel with Grotesques, engraving, 1528.[1]
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Veneziano (Agostino di Musi), Grotesque, 1530.
Colored engraving, 19.6 x 13.6 cm.
Herzog Anton-Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig

Daniel Hopfer (c. 1470-1536), Ornamental Fillet with Grotesques, nd.[2]

Francesco Parmigianino (Francesco Mazzola, Il Parmigianino), A Witch riding on a Phallic Monster, c. 1530s.[3] British Museum, London

Enea Vico, Ornamental Grotesque Panel. Engraving by Tomaso Barlacchi, 1541. British Museum, London

Cornelis Bos, Grotesque, 1546.[4]
Netherlandish engraving, from Groteske vlakdecoraties met rolwerk
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Cornelis Floris, Grotesque Ornamental Mask, 1555.
Etching "i" from Pourtraicture ingenieuse de plusieurs façon de Masques. Fort utile aulx painctres, orseures, Taillieurs de pierres, voirriers et Taillieurs d'images.

Engraving by Frans Huys
MAK (Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst), Vienna

François Desprez, Les songes drolatiques de Pantagruel, Paris, 1565, woodcut 21

Jacques Androuet Du Cerceau (1510-1585), Etching from Livre de Grotesques, Paris, 1566.[5]

Étienne Delaune (1518-1583/95), Grotesque Ornamental Panel (with Diana), engraving, France, 16th century.

Christoph Jamnitzer, Neuw Grotteßken Buch, Nüremberg, 1610.

Nicasius Roussel, Arabesque 3 (Ornamental Grotesque), 1620-23

Nicasius Roussel, Arabesque 5 (Ornamental Grotesque), 1620-23 (Seer aerdige Grotissen … door Nicasius Rousseel, set of 12 plates, Bruges, 1684).[6]

Roussel, Arabesque 7 (Ornamental Grotesque), 1620-23.

Roussel, Arabesque 10 (Ornamental Grotesque), 1620-23.[7]

Johannes Lutma, Cartouche auriculaire, Amsterdam, 1633-54.
BnF, Paris.[8]

Friedrich Unteutsch, Cartiaginous Grotesque (Knorpelwerk), Germany, 1650. Engraving by Abraham Aubry

Johann Heinrich Keller, Gristly Grotesque (Knorpelgroteske), German engraving, 1680.

Jean Bérain, "Arabesque F" (Grotesque Ornamental Panels), engraving, c. 1703. BnF, Paris

Friedrich August Krubsacius, Satiric Cartouche in the Shape of a Grotesque Rocaille, from Kurze Untersuchung des Ursprungs der Verzierungen, der Veränderung und des Wachstums derselben, bis zu ihrem itzigen Verfalle [~ A Short Investigation of the Origin of Ornaments, their Transformation and Growth, to end with their Decay], Dresden, 1759.[9]

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Capriccio 2: The Triumphal Arch, from The Grotteschi, c. 1748.
Etching and drypoint, published in 1750. Ackland Fund

Ennemond-Alexandre Petitot (1720-1801), Mascarade à la Grecque, Plate 4: "Bergère à la Grecque". Etching by Benigno Bossi. Published in Parma in 1771.

Colored engraving by Volpato & Ottaviani (after drawings by Camporesi & Savorelli Teseo), Le Loggie di Rafaele nel Vaticano, Rome, 1772-77.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, "Todos Caerán" (All of Them Will Fall; alternatively, Everyone Will Fall), Los Caprichos,[10] № 19, Madrid, 1797-99.
Etching and aquatint
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Ibid., № 43: "El sueño de la razon produce monstruos" (The Sleep of Reason produces Monsters, yet The Dream of Reason produces Monsters is the most accurate translation),[11] Madrid, 1797-98. Published in 1799.
"La fantasia abandonada de la razon, produce monstruos imposibles: unida con ella, es madre de las artes y origen de sus marabillas".[12] MdP

1. V&A: "This 16th-century ornament print by Lucas Hugensz van Leyden shows an asymmetrical design in the grotesque style. 'Grotesque' derives from the Italian word grottesco. The style was inspired by ancient Roman designs discovered at the end of the 15th century in the underground rooms, or grottoes, of the Golden House of Emperor Nero in Rome. Grotesque ornament was used to decorate a wide range of objects, such as ceramics, and the style was much copied by Renaissance artists. The two sphinx-like figures are particularly ornate, with female heads, wings, hooves and the bodies of snakes" [or some kind of fish].
2. Hollstein 110 II; Bartsch 99
3. Attributed to Bernard Picart, this 1732 etching is after Parmigianino's now-lost original design (that was formerly in Amsterdam). The image concerns the witches' sabbath. A hooded witch rides a phallus-dentatus monster which is held by a winged demon and followed by other figures to the left and an owl in the upper right corner.
4. Original plate title: "Rolwerk waarin een vrouw gevangen zit".
5. Complete title: Livre de Grotesques; Grandes Arabesques; Grandes Grotesques.
6. The engraving is plate 5 from a set of 12. The set was first designed by Roussel and engraved by Johannes Barra in 1623. All plates were seemingly reworked and printed once again by Rousseel in 1684. The grotesque ornamental panels present rinceaux, flowers and fantastical animals. They are numbered at the bottom right. Carsten-Peter Warncke, Die ornamentale Groteske in Deutschland, 1500-1650, 2 vols., Berlin: Verlag Volker Spiess, 1979, Abb. 268; Arabeske; image source.
7. From De Grotesco perutilis Liber per Nacasius Rousseel ornatissimo viro Domino G Heriot, reissued by John Overton, early 18th century. "Engraving (plate 10) from 'De Grotesco perutilis Liber per Nacasius Rousseel ornatissimo viro Domino G Heriot', by Jan Barra after Nicasius Roussel (working 1570-1620), early 18th century. Nicaise Roussel came to London from Bruges in about 1570 and became a member of the Dutch church in Austin Friars. By 1617 he had 'dwelt here 44 years'. His designs arranged by John Bar, an immigrant from Lorraine, were published in 1623 and dedicated to George Heriot, royal goldsmith and jeweller to James I. They were reissued between 1667 and 1672 by John Overton. The combination of plant-forms, monsters and grotesques gives this design an extraordinary vitality" (V&A: Engraved Ornament).
8. Désiré Guilmard, Les maitres ornemanistes : dessinateurs, peintres, architectes, sculpteurs et graveurs, Paris: E. Plon, 1880-81, vol. 2, pl. 16.
9. According to Pfotenhauer, Krubsacius argued against the baroque goût and the use of "fantasies" in architecture, condemning the grotesque, shell- and rocaille work made following French taste. He stood against the arbitrary and the capricious, stressing the necessity of the regular and the simple. Krubsacius was against any kind of ornament, notably those from Herculaneum, arabesques, mauresques, and grotesques combining human and animal bodies into mythical creatures (Helmut Pfotenhauer, Klassizismus als Anfang der Moderne?, Ars Naturam Adiuvans, Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 1996; Das Goethezeitportal, 2005).
Historically, some most important European ornamental trends included the grotesque (1480- ), strapwork and scrollwork (1530-1580), auricular style (1620-1680), Rococo (1730-1800); their respective German equivalents are Groteske, Beschlagwerk (Schweifwerk; Bandelwerk), Rollwerk, Knorpelstil (Knorpelwerk),
10. Los Caprichos is a series of 80 etchings.
11. Manchester City Galleries, 1983.856: "El Sueño De La Razon Produce Monstruos (The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters)"; alternative title: 'The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters'. In Spanish, the term sueño means both "dream" and "sleep". The full epigraph for Capricho No. 43 reads: "Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels" (La fantasía [i.e., imaginación] abandonada de la razón produce monstruos imposibles: unida con ella, es madre de las artes y origen de sus maravillas). Goya's 1797 preparatory work bears the inscription "Sueño 1°", and this in Spanish means "first dream". That preparatory work also bears a telling inscription: "Ydioma universal. Dibujado y Grabado por Fco. de Goya, año 1797" plus "El autor soñando. Su yntento solo es desterrar bulgaridades perjudiciales, y perpetuar con esta obra de caprichos, el testimonio solido de la verdad." So, Goya's "fantasy" is no other than the imagination. Significantly, "fantasy abandoned by reason" takes place especially through dreams. Thus, the universal language (Ydioma universal) to which Goya refers is neither the act of becoming sleepy nor of sleeping, but the that of dreaming. Dream is itself a universal language and in its own right. The act of sleeping, on the other hand, is no language at all. Yntento means "intention", and Goya declaredly aims through the Caprichos to end with harmful vulgarities and bear witness in order to perpetuate the truth. While caprice is no way evidently related to the act of sleeping or to any kind of sleepery, the Spanish term capricho finds conspicuous expression as a dream. This is el sueño to which Goya refers. Fantasy abandoned by reason is not merely sleeping, but dreaming, which is a wilder and far more meaningful act.
Aldous Huxley aptly comments on Goya’s Dream/Sleep of Reason: "The moral [of Goya’s art] is summed up in the central plate of the Caprichos, in which we see Goya himself, his head on his arms, sprawled across his desk and fitfully sleeping, which the air above is people with the bats and owls of necromancy and just behind his chair lies an enormous witch’s cat, malevolent as only Goya’s cats can be, staring at the sleeper with baleful eyes. On the side of the desk are traced the words, 'The dream of reason produces monsters,' It is a caption that admits of more than one interpretation. When reason sleeps, the absurd and loathsome creatures of superstition wake and are active, goading their victim to an ignoble frenzy. But this is not all. Reason may also dream without sleeping, may intoxicate itself, as it did during the French Revolution, with the daydreams […] of liberty, equality, and fraternity imposed by violence" (Huxley, "Variations on Goya," On Art and Artists, ed. Morris Philipson, London: Chatto & Windus, 1960, pp. 218-19).
"The artist's nightmare" in the print reflects "his view of Spanish society", which he portrays as "demented, corrupt, and ripe for ridicule" (The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters: Plate 43 of The Caprices (Los Caprichos), New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History).
"The series Los Caprichos is probably Goya’s best known. Comprising eighty plates, Goya privately published the series, which was first advertised for sale in the Spanish newspaper Diario de Madrid in 1799 as being a criticism of "human errors and vices," although the subjects are often obscure and interpretation purposely difficult. […] The Sleep of Reason is a self-portrait of the artist, surrounded by demonic-looking animals. […] In Los Caprichos Goya begins to push the boundaries of the intaglio process to achieve a sense of ambiguous space coupled with a modernist sensibility. This series grew out of Goya’s developing sense of isolation, the result of a protracted illness he suffered in 1792–93, leaving him totally deaf. This, along with his difficult position as court painter to King Carlos IV at a time when he was becoming increasingly dedicated to the cause of the Spanish peasants, left him feeling compromised. Relying on a variety of influences, Los Caprichos served as a coded expression of the artist’s growing involvement in Madrid’s political milieu" (The sleep of reason produces monsters, Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, May 2013).
12. Razón: La potencia intelectiva, en cuanto discurre y raciocina" (Academia Española, Diccionario de la lengua castellana, Madrid, 1791).
El sueño de la razon produce monstruos has been interpreted in at least three different ways:
P: La fantasia abandonada de la razon, produce monstruos imposibles: unida con ella, es madre de las artes y origen de sus marabillas.
BN: Portada para esta obra: cuando los hombres no oyen el grito de la razon, todo se vuelve visiones.
CN: Cuando duerme la razon, todas son fantasmas y visiones monstruosas.
P stands for Prado; BN for Biblioteca Nacional; and CN for Calcografía Nacional.

Grotesque Configuration [by Vico?]. MAK

Chimera Jewell Design
Mannerist print, 16th century. MAK

Grotesques à la Bérain, c. 1703. MAK

Online Resources
Ornamental Grotesque Album
• Souren Melikian, The Surreal in Western Culture: Lighthearted Fantasy Becomes Simply Grotesque, International Herald Tribune, 31 August 1996, p. 8.
Ornamental Prints Europa (Berlin, Prague, Vienna).
• Kathrin Pokorny-Nagel, From Grotesquerie to The Grotesque: On the Topicality of Ornaments (Vom Grotesken zur Groteske: Zur Aktualität des Ornaments), Kunstblättersaal MAK Vienna, October 2007 - March 2008.
• Lars Olof Larsson, Ornament och ornamentstick från renässans till nyklassicism, Humanist Portalen, Uppsala Universitet, 19.8.2010.