Greek Key

April 30, 2010

Among the most common designs seen in ancient art is the Greek-key pattern, a rectilinear meander. Other abstracted forms of wave patterns, geometric repeats, and palmette friezes are also seen on classical garments, as are more intricate borders depicting themes ranging from animals, birds, and fish to complexbattle scenes. Nevertheless, such patterns have rarely been used by later artists or by contemporary designers. Of all these motifs, the Greek key and wave meander appear most frequently in designs intended to evoke the antique. In some instances, the key pattern is broken into a discontinuous segmented band, but even this disrupted linear repeat is sufficient to sustain the classical connection

Source:The Greek Key and Divine Attributes in Modern Dress | Thematic Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In art and architecture, a meander is a decorative border constructed from a continuous line, shaped into a repeated motif. Such a design is also called the Greek fret or Greek key design, although these are modern designations. On the one hand, the name “meander” recalls the twisting and turning path of the Maeander River in Asia Minor, and on the other hand, as Karl Kerenyi pointed out, “the meander is the figure of a labyrinth in linear form”. Among some Italians, these patterns are known as Greek Lines.

Meanders are common decorative elements in Greek art and Roman art. In ancient Greece they appear in many architectural friezes, and in bands on the pottery of ancient Greece from the Geometric Period onwards. The design is common to the present-day in classicizing architecture. The meander is a fundamental design motif in regions far from a Hellenic orbit: labyrinthine meanders (“thunder” pattern) appear in bands and as infill on Shang bronzes, and many traditional buildings in and around China still bear geometric designs almost identical to meanders

Meanders were among the most important symbols in ancient Greece; they, perhaps, symbolized infinity and unity; many ancient Greek temples incorporated the sign of the meander. Greek vases, especially during their Geometric Period, were likely the genesis for the widespread use of meanders; alternately, very ocean-like patterns of waves also appeared in the same format as meanders, which can also be thought of as the guilloche pattern. The shield of Philip II of Macedon, conserved in the museum of Vergina, is decorated with multiple symbols of the meander.

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