The first meaning of arabesque mentioned in the dictionary refers to the Arabic adjective: that linked to Arabia. The most common use of the concept, however, is associated with a specific kind of ornamentation.
An arabesque, in this sense, is an ornament that is characterized by its peculiar patterns and geometric shapes. The name is related to the traditional decorative elements used in mosques and other Arab buildings.
The arabesque, which is usually used in the borders or guards and in the baseboards, appeals to ribbons, leaf litter, tracery and other resources to achieve its aesthetic effect. Sometimes, in addition to leaves, it imitates the shape of certain animals or fruits.
Despite their connection to Islamic art, arabesques were already used by Assyrians, Romans, ancient Egyptians, and Greeks. Then they became popular in the Renaissance, which carried the style across Europe.
In Spain we can find several examples of arabesque in the decoration of certain buildings, such as the Alhambra in Granada and the Mosque of Córdoba. In Seville, the façade of its Alcázar exposes the use of arabesques in Mudejar art, an artistic style developed by Christians from the Iberian peninsula with Muslim influences, both in terms of materials and elements.
Speaking of European art in general, already in Ancient Rome arabesques were used to paint the facades of its palaces and public buildings, in addition to its graves. The symbology used in these cases was not arbitrary, but indicated the use that the monuments in question would receive. It is worth mentioning that the fall of the Empire led to the almost total disappearance of this type of decoration.
Although the designs and color palettes have a great variety, it is possible to distinguish three constants in all these examples of arabesques: in the lower region, a wide basement with few decorations and dark red; in its middle part, a frame, generally yellow in color; on top, a frieze with a large number of very delicate compositions on a white background to increase the contrast.
The term arabesque also appears in other contexts beyond the ornamental. In the field of music, a composition is called arabesque whose form has a decorative style at the harmonic and melodic level.
The musical compositions that fall into this group are characterized by generating the image of a sinuous curve with a constant movement of recesses and projections, which results from the combination of parts in continuous movement and arpeggios that articulate the melodies. One of the most prominent examples of arabesque is the suite entitled Two arabesques, composed by Claude Debussy for piano and published in the late 19th century.
It is believed that the use of this word to name this musical line was the idea of Schumann, in his piece for piano op. 18, free form. Given the decorative style of its harmony and its melody, which in the west was reminiscent of the music of the Arab countries, naming it Arabesco seemed more than adequate. It is important to note that Arab music has no relation to this type of composition, at least not a direct link.
“Arabesco”, on the other hand, is the title by which the film “Arabesque”, released in 1966,was known in our language. This film, directed by Stanley Donen, features starring performances by Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren. In the story, an Egyptologist on a mission to decipher a hieroglyph is involved in a dangerous conflict of powers.