from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Antique tendril ornament from the Ara Pacis , Rome, 13-9 BC Chr.
Arabesque from a series of grotesques by the Dutch Nicasius Rousseel. Engraving 1623.

The arabesque , from it .: arabesco (German: Moorish, oriental ), is a tendril ornament developed from late antique, Hellenistic models . The term is used to name both the surface-filling, natural acanthus tendrils of the Renaissance and the more stylized leaf tendril ornaments in Islamic art. Both are not directly related to each other, but have similar roots.

Concept history

The delimitation and use of the term arabesque are contradictory and inconsistent. The anachronistic application to the late antique decorative forms is misleading. Primarily it is a term that can be used for the first time in 1530 as rabesci , with which one then also referred to acanthus ornaments on the front panels of pilasters . The choice of the term was explained by the fact that the exemplary Hellenistic-Roman ornamentation became known to the Renaissance artists through Byzantium , which had belonged to the Ottoman Empire since 1453 . Since the 17th century, the terms arabesque , grotesque and mauresque were often used synonymously. Arabesque has also been used for oriental ornaments since 1851 at the latest , especially since Alois Riegl restricted the term to the stylized fork-leaf tendril of Islamic art. The uncertainty persists to this day; it can be avoided through a more concrete, clear choice of words (e.g. acanthus vine ).

Arabesque in European art

The main characteristics of the Renaissance arabesque are: a relatively organic, natural rendition compared to other ornaments, a not always symmetrical arrangement, the opposition of the delicate volute tendrils , the even surface filling and the usually rectangular frame. These elements already characterized the ornament style of the Roman imperial era, where the acanthus tendril was popular as a relief decoration of architectural parts. In the Italian Renaissance, ornament was also used extensively on buildings and by painters in depicting architecture and in book decorations.

Corresponding motifs have been returning in German ornamental engravings since around 1520, often with the inclusion of candelabra motifs and human figures. Her engravers include Peter Flötner , Heinrich Aldegrever , Barthel Beham , Daniel Hopfer and others. Executed arabesque reliefs show the Fugger Chapel in Augsburg (1518), the market fountain in Mainz (1526), ​​the Georgentor in Dresden, the terracotta giant of Statius von Düren (1551/66) and the profane architecture in Görlitz.

The arabesque differs from the contemporary Mauresque , from which it is not always clearly distinguished, in that it is closer to nature and has a lower degree of abstraction. While the arabesque can be derived from ancient models, the Mauresque came through the import of handicrafts from the Moorish- dominated areas of Spain via Italy to Germany and the Netherlands, where it, even more simplified and stylized, was its own variant within the rich spectrum of grotesque ornamentation depicted.

The central motif in Philipp Otto Runge's painting The Morning (1808) is framed by allegories arranged like arabesques.

The arabesque does not indicate a form of decoration that can be limited in time (such as cartilage or rocaille ), but remains a motif that has been repeatedly taken up in various styles until beyond the baroque period.

The culture of German Romanticism devoted its own attention to the arabesque. Friedrich Schlegel had already emphasized its importance as a structural principle of all poetry (see the main article Arabesque (literature) ). In the fine arts, too, it no longer served only as a decoration, but became a carrier of meaning itself. Inspired less by the Renaissance ornamentation of Italy discussed above, but mainly by Albrecht Dürer's marginal drawings in Maximilian I 's prayer book , it was often used as a circumferential ornament in book decorations of the time. But also on paintings, e.g. B. by Philipp Otto Runge , the design principle of the framing arabesque becomes a frequently repeated basic pattern. The allegorical and symbolic motifs inscribed on it seem playful and yet go far beyond the decorative. Peter Cornelius , Eugen Napoleon Neureuther , Moritz von Schwind and even Adolph von Menzel used this form of design in their compositions.

Arabesque ceramics from the Timurid period

Arabesque in Islamic Art

Probably partly due to the Islamic ban on images , the flat stylized tendril typical of Islamic art developed in the Near East under the influence of late antiquity, made of bifurcating leaves that evenly fill a field in swinging motion. Particularly impressive arabesques can be found in many halls of the Alhambra in Granada . The pattern is used in architectural ornamentation, handicrafts and book art.

Uniform knowledge

In the armed forces of the GDR, the collar tabs were referred to as an arabesque as part of the badges of rank of the rank group of generals and flag officers . See the main article Larisch embroidery .


see also the bibliography under Grotesque

  • Lotte Pulvermacher : Arabesque . In: Reallexikon zur Deutschen Kunstgeschichte , Volume 1, Stuttgart 1935, Column 895–900.
  • Ernst Kühnel: The arabesque. Meaning and transformation of an ornament , Wiesbaden 1949 (on Islamic ornament)
  • Alois Riegl: Stilfragen , 2nd edition Berlin 1923
  • Werner Busch: The Necessary Arabesque, Appropriation of Reality and Stylization in Art of the 19th Century , 1985
  • Transformation of the world - the romantic arabesque , exhibition catalog Hamburger Kunsthalle 2014

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Arabesque  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Arabesques (ornaments)  - collection of images, videos and audio files

(with a broad interpretation of the term arabesque).


  1. Textile sample book, Venice 1530
  2. John Ruskin: The stones of Venice , chap. 1, § 26
  3. ^ Alois Riegl: Stilfragen , Berlin 1893
  4. so also Ernst Kühnel: Die Arabeske , Wiesbaden 1949
  5. ^ The Reallexikon zur Deutschen Kunstgeschichte (arabesque) , the Reclam Sachlexikon der Kunst , p. 32 and Johannes Jahn , Stefanie Lieb : Dictionary der Kunst (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 165). 13th, completely revised and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-520-16513-8 apply the term only to the European Renaissance ornamentation, the East German Dictionary of Art , Leipzig 1987, vol. 1. p. 224 follows Riegl's limitation to the Islamic one Art.
  6. Younger specialist authors on European ornament history such as Carsten-Peter Warncke: Die Ornamentale Groteske in Deutschland Berlin 1979 or Günter Irmscher: Ornament in Europa , Cologne 2005, completely dispense with the term arabesque in this context .