"Bourgoin's experiments in tessellation, developed out of the Islamic decorative schemes he sketched in Cairo and elsewhere, saw motifs "decontextualised and freed from material form in order to suggest universal values" that pointed away from figuration and towards abstraction."
According to the exhibition, an early defender of this "lesson of Islam" was the British architect and designer Owen Jones, whose search for a "grammar," or set of rules, to guide decorative design stood as a declaration of war on the historicising image-making favoured by orientalist painters like G³©rome. Jones's Grammar of Ornament (1856), a book of decorative schemes for use in designing mass-produced goods, was a way of going beyond the styles of the past, Labrousse writes, and of approaching the underlying principles thought to govern the visual arts, much in the way grammatical rules might be thought to govern utterances in a verbal language.
Jones spent years studying the architecture and decoration of the Alhambra in Spain, eventually producing the first modern set of plans of this mediaeval Arab complex in his Plans, Elevations, Sections and Details of the Alhambra (1842-45). In addition to the architecture, he was particularly interested in the ways in which the Alhambra's designers had used tessellation, the covering of planes with interlocking shapes, giving rise to decoration of startling complexity and apparently infinite extension.
Note: Islamic religion does not allow pictorial depictions of religious ideas, so calligraphy, weaving and ceramic tile patterns make use of abstract motifs.