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Claudius Linossier: Ornament as Art

Claudius Linossier: Ornament as Art

The private collection of Claudius Linossier reveals a rich life, that was at once worldly, and rooted in his proud French heritage. In 1953, Linossier left this group of astounding vases to his good friends M. and Mme. Fila accompanied by touching handwritten letters dated to the day of his death. This collection was most recently acquired by Macklowe Gallery, and demonstrates a provenance that is emblematic of the breadth and versatility of his work. Through the influence of his travels, mentors and supportive family, Linossier created an Art Deco iconography that was uniquely his.

Born in Lyon, Claudius Linossier (1893-1953) was the humble son of a canut (silk weaver). His childhood home on Rue de Sentier was fitted with two looms, whereby a young Linossier earnestly watched his father Anthelme breath life into shimmering fields of threads. The influence of the humble French folk textile is apparent in Linossier’s design. The geometric motif featured on this dinanderie vase was termed the Tetrakis, also known as the moulinet (pinwheel). Its origins can be traced to twelfth-century France, where poems refer to the preparation of a nuptial bed covered with a silk patchwork quilt. 

1) Linossier Tetrakis Dinanderie Vase, Macklowe Gallery 2) Quilt Top, M.B., 1807, Los Angeles County Museum of Art 3) Quilt for Four Poster Bed, 'Variable Star', 1725-1750, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The Tetrakis was an integral part of the design of the French board game "Jeu de Soldat" (soldier's game). Linossier served in the army from November 26, 1913, to September 3, 1919. Jeu de Soldat was commonly played to pass time in the trenches. The game was played by two soldiers, one with a piece representing the hare, and the other with three pieces representing the dogs. The tetrakis design was easy to draw, easily fitting into the mobile lifestyle of the French soldier.Through geometric ornament, Linossier presents both trauma and diversion, all while asserting his Lyonnaise heritage. 

Jeu du Soldat diagram, Peter Michaelsen, “Haretavl – hare and hounds as a board game”, On an old pastime and its names, 1998

The city of Lyon, once known as Lugdunum, was once the administrative center of Roman Gaul and Germany. Its ancient sites held both archaeological and religious significance. In 1886, the oldest theater in France was discovered on Lyon’s Fourvière Hill. On the other side of Fourvière hill, archaeologists discovered the amphitheater where the first Roman Christians were martyred in the “Persecution of Lyon.” Excavation of the theaters continued throughout the 1920s and 30s, fascinating the locals with their city’s newfound history. 

In 1840, during the uprooting of a vine, a series of columns were unearthed. Intrigued, the owners of the garden, organized excavations, discovering two mosaics. The most beautiful mosaic, depicting the Drunken Hercules, was acquired by the city of Lyon in 1894. On each panel, mythological stories are interspersed throughout a field of geometric patterned medallions. One such pattern, a triangle fractal termed the Sierpinski triangle, was a motif ubiquitous in Linossier’s work. 

1) Linossier Sierpinski Triangle Dinanderie Vase, Macklowe Gallery, 2) Mosaic of the Drunkenness of Hercules, 3rd century A.D, Lugdunum Museum, Lyon, 3) The theater during excavation, ca. 1934, Lugdunum Museum

Following the Christianization of Byzantine Rome, the pattern appeared on hallowed church floors. As a young man, Linossier apprenticed for Berger-Nesme, a local silversmith specializing in religious wares. Throughout his career, Linossier continued to make Stations of the Cross and tabernacles for churches in the Lyonnaise region. Byzantine geometric mosaics were revived in 12th century Italy by the Cosmati family of craftsmen. Their eponymous “Cosmatesque” ornament can be found in the most prominent European churches, including the Sistine Chapel, Westminster Abbey, and the Raphael Rooms at the Vatican. 

1) Linossier Dinanderie vase with Triangle, Diamond, and Chevron frieze, 2) ibid. Detail 3) Paving of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, c. 1750, Rome, École Polytechnique, 4) Imperial Porphiry and Golden Leaf: Sierpinski Triangle in a Medieval Roman Cloister, International Confrerence on Geometriy and Graphics

In 1919, Linossier moved from Lyon to Paris, where he bore witness to the burgeoning Art Deco movement. Claudius frequented the Louvre during his stay, where he discovered Grecian pottery. “I have a magnificent master,” Linossier wrote, “it is Douris, this Greek with a soul like the horizons of Attica. What didn’t he teach me in the shadow and inviolable silence of the three small rooms of the Louvre? His pottery appeared like metal to me, and so I make my metalwork appear like pottery.”

1) Linossier Dinanderie Vitruvian Scroll Charger, 2) ibid. detail 3) Terracotta neck-amphora (jar) with lid and knob, Exekias, ca. 540 B.C, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Linossier commonly used the “Vitruvian scrolls” in his decoration. The Vitruvian scroll was formed by interlinking a series of volutes, the geometric motif of the ionic order. During the nineteenth century, archaeologists believed that since the ram was a customary offering to the dead, the volute symbol was derived from grave pillars. The greek vase painter Exekias, who Linossier often referenced, would use Vitruvian scrolls and palmettes to flank his figural scenes. On his chargers, Linossier depicted the Vergina sun. Early representations of the symbol go back to at least the 6th century B.C, with citizen-soldiers bearing sixteen-pointed sunburst symbols on their shields and armor. 

Left: Linossier Vergina Sun Charger, Macklowe Gallery, Middle: Temple of Athena at Lion, Helios metope, 364, University of Cambridge, Museum of Classical Archaeology, Right: A drawing of the "Stele of Aristion", from the collections of Harvard University, 1894, Funerary stele of an Athenian hoplite (Aristion) having a sixteen-pointed Vergina sun symbol on his right shoulder, c. 520 BC. Relief at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

After a year in Paris, Linossier moved back to Lyon, starting his own workshop in the neighborhood of La Croix-Rosse. Described as "the hill that works" by locals, The Croix-Rousse was formerly the neighborhood of Lyon's silk manufacturers. During the 19th century it reverberated with the sounds of the "bistanclaques", an onomatopoeic name given to the weaving looms by the inhabitants of the city. That year, Linossier met his wife Hélène while she was working at the local Croix-Rousse bank. The two forged their careers together, Claudius in metal and Hélène in painting. They eventually exhibited together at the Salons de la Nationale des Beaux-Arts and the Société des Artistes Décorateurs et d'Automne. 

Left: Helene and Claudius Linossier at the workshop in 1948 with their help Meyet, boilermaker worker, Editions lyonnaises d'art et d'histoire, Right: Hélène et Claudius Linossier, Médaillon, 1948, Musee des Beaux-Arts de Lyon

In 1929, Linossier created his first and only set of illustrations. The book, Le Centaure, was the first publication of the Cercle Gryphe, a Lyonnaise bibliophile society founded by Albert Pauphilet. Pauphilet was a professor of French literature at the University of Cairo from 1908 to 1910. With Pauphilet’s influence and the Art Deco Egyptian Revival, many of the Centaure illustrations and Linossier’s vases included the pyramid and sun motif. Linossier’s pyramid and sun were the visual equivalents of the Egyptian hieroglyph akhet, a sun rising behind two mountains. The akhet symbol evolved into the Eye of Providence, whereby a circle of rays glows behind a pyramid. Swedish Spiritualist Painter Hilma Af Klimt used the pyramid and sun in her paintings, namely the Altarpiece No. 1 (1915). Fin de siecle Theosophy and anthroposophy movements richly contributed to Linossier and other pioneers of modernism and abstract art.  By mixing Eastern philosophy, Christian mysticism, and spiritism, an entirely novel group of symbols was introduced to western iconography. 

1) Linossier  Dinanderie Vase with Pyramid and Sun Frieze, 2) Group X, Altarpieces, Nos. 1–3 (1915), Hilma af Klint, Guggenheim, 3) Akhet, Book of the Dead of Ani;, Royal Scribe Ani, ca. 1275 BCE., British Museum, 4) Amulet, Sun on Horizon, Red jasper amulet of the sun on the horizon, 664–30 B.C, Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 1953, Linossier proposed to the mayor of Lyon that three scholarships be distributed to promising young students at the Lyon Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Linossier named the scholarship after his wife, ensuring her legacy remains strong to this day. Through his design, Linossier proved that ornament could contain the same vibrancy and joie de vivre he experienced in life. 

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