Describes objects or compositions characterized by a predominance of curling, scroll-shaped tendrils or winding curves, also called volutes, S-scrolls, or C-scrolls. The extent to which each of these forms is related, as well as the history of the term “arabesque,” is hotly debated among art historians. Arabesque has a specific meaning in Islamic art, where it refers to the vegetal patterned surface decorations that flourished from the 10th to 15th centuries and adorned walls from Spain to Northern Africa, highly ornamented calligraphy, or intricate patterning on sculpture and other objects. Its meaning in other aesthetic traditions is less clear (some art historians argue that it should only be used to describe Islamic art). Starting in the late Renaissance in Europe, it was used nearly interchangeably with the terms “grotesque” and “moresque” to describe complex, curvilinear patterning. By the Rococo period of the 17th century, the form had become extremely popular, and swooping S-scrolls in high relief adorned furniture, architectural elements, tableware, and other decorative objects. Arabesques and related scroll shapes appear in classical art and decoration, in Chinese art, and in contemporary art throughout the world. With their basis in mathematical principles of geometry and fluid definition, a straightforward lineage is difficult to ascertain.

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