Meaning ‘in the Arab style’, this describes a form of artistic decoration consisting of elaborately beautiful surface designs of stylised intertwined flowers and foliage. Typical of early Islamic art and architectural surfaces, the harmonious geometry represents the organic rhythms and forms of the natural world and give a sense of infinity. In Islamic art in particular, arabesques are closely associated with calligraphy; in keeping with their Moorish heritage, 16th-17thC Spanish and Portuguese exhibit arabesque forms in their furniture, and some of the most remarkable examples adorn the Spanish Alhambra.
The Arabesque was embraced in the renaissance as a motif, incorporating classical themes such as mythological forms and patterns of curving scrolls with interlacing leaves and flowers, repeated and transposed over and over again. It was widely applied in various ways, on pottery, manuscripts, interior and exterior walls, tapestry..
In contemporary textiles, the loose interpretation of ‘arabesque’ refers to an all-over scroll and floral design.