In architecture and decorative art , ornament is a decoration used to embellish parts of a building or object. Large figurative elements such as monumental sculpture and their equivalents in decorative art are excluded from the term; most ornament does not include human figures, and if present they are small compared to the overall scale. Architectural ornament can be carved from stone , wood or precious metals, formed with plaster or clay , or painted or impressed onto a surface as applied ornament; in other applied arts the main material of the object, or a different one such as paint or vitreous enamel may be used.
A wide variety of decorative styles and motifs have been developed for architecture and the applied arts, including pottery , furniture , metalwork. In textiles, wallpaper and other objects where the decoration may be the main justification for its existence , the terms pattern or design are more likely to be used. The vast range of motifs used in ornament draw from geometrical shapes and patterns , plants , and human and animal figures. Across Eurasia and the Mediterranean world there has been a rich and linked tradition of plant -based ornament for over three thousand years; traditional ornament from other parts of the world typically relies more on geometrical and animal motifs.
In a 1941 essay , the architectural historian Sir John Summerson called it "surface modulation". The earliest decoration and ornament often survives from prehistoric cultures in simple markings on pottery , where decoration in other materials (including tattoos) has been lost. Where the potter's wheel was used, the technology made some kinds of decoration very easy ; weaving is another technology which also lends itself very easily to decoration or pattern , and to some extent dictates its form.