The antithesis between classical ornament and Northern Gothic ornament requires a more exhaustive consideration. The fundamental difference in the character of these two manifestations of art must also be demonstrated in detail.
When comparing the two styles of ornament, the first point that strikes one is that the Northern ornament lacks the concept of symmetry which from the beginning was so characteristic of all classical ornament. Symmetry is replaced by repetition.
A continually increasing activity without pauses or accents is set up and repetition has only the one aim of giving the particular motive a potential infinity. The infinite harmony of the line hovers before Northern man in his ornament: that infinite line which gives no pleasure, but which stuns and compels us to helpless surrender.
If after contemplating Northern ornament, we close our eyes, all that remains to us is a lingering impression of a formless, ceaseless activity.
Excerpt: Wilhelm Worringer, Form In Gothic (authorized translation of Formprobleme der Gotik, edited with an introduction by Herbert Read), New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1927.
1. Daniel Hopfer, (ca 1470-1536): Ornament with Thistle (Gothic Thistle). Etching.
2. Shoulder clasp (closed) from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial.
3. "Edinburgh Lecture diagram: Decorated cusped gothic window" by John Ruskin and Sir John Everett Millais, assisted by Euphemia Chalmers Ruskin, pencil, charcoal, ink, wash, oil and gold paint; paper mounted on linen, 1853.
4. Ärentunar runestone with interlaced animal, Uppland, Sweden.
5. Engraving of the Cross of Cong, an Irish processional cross decorated with elements of Insular art and Urnes-style decoration, early 12th century.