Monday, February 28, 2011

It's Not Elven, It's Art Nouveau

Rivendell from The Lord of the Rings
Anyone who has seen Lord of the Rings would agree that Rivendell and Lothlorian are breathtakingly beautiful places, fantasy that they may be. The elven architecture is rife with natural elements, carved from stone and wood to look like graceful, twining vines, delicate Spring leaves, and ephemeral blooms forever frozen in time. The intricacy and detail involved in creating these elven scenes is honestly amazing, and one might wonder where the designers got their inspiration. The answer is... Alphonse Mucha. Wait a minute, you may be thinking, I thought Lord of the Rings was written by that fellow, J.R.R. Tolkien. Well, you would be right, but Tolkien wrote his books between 1937 and 1949, but the design style used by the set designers on the Lord of the Rings films is older still. Art Nouveau is a design style that encompassed everything from jewelry to graphic art to architecture and reached its peak between 1890 and 1905. Its roots can be traced back to a poster designed by Alphonse Mucha. When you see floral designs twisted into improbable curlicues, sylvan ladies with coiled, voluminous locks and thin clingy gowns, or delicate Tiffany stained glass lamps, you are looking at examples of Art Nouveau, not some sort of Medieval throwback as many might assume. I absolutely love the delicate lines and swooping curves prominent in Art Nouveau style, as well as the leaves and flowers and stylized natural elements because it does remind me of fairies and elves and a fantasy land far, far away. Art Nouveau is pretty and delicate, decorative and whimsical, all the things a little girl could love. It's not a leap to understand why the set designers on Lord of the Rings chose this style for their elven strongholds. After all, that's what I would have done. 
Stairway at Hotel Tassel, by Victor Horta

Art Nouveau poster, Alphonse Mucha

Art Nouveau brooch, artist unknown

Comments are welcome. Please click on the links embedded in the text for more information on Art Nouveau style and examples. Thank you for reading!

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