Any child provided with his first pair of compasses essays a row of tangential circles: if he adds a second row touching the first and maybe a third row, he has constructed the geometric basis of the classical Guilloche. The term is sometimes used to cover not only circular bands but crossing ones as well, and interlaced ornament generally.
While the engravers of La Madeleine were working on their bones, and the women sewing skins together with their bone needles, in Egypt and Western Asia the decorative arts were being perfected. Fig. I is a sketch of a motive on the gold-foil covering of a flint knife from a grave of the predynastic period. In Elam this can be matched on a seal with a pair of lions, ‘sejant rampant regardant’, their tails intertwined (fig. 2). A non-representational treatment is seen on an early Sumerian votive plaque (fig. 3). Disregarding its symbolic content, the strictly geometric construction may be noted. This ‘twist’, as a single row of circular bands is termed here, occurs in Cretan art of the 16th century B.C., and later, in Assyrian art. It may be surmised that, with other motives, as the rosette, lotus and palmette (but not the fret), the twist was handed on to the Greeks from the East. It reached Scandinavia, where it is found on hanging bowls, and is seen inlaid in coral at the base of the Gaulish flagon in the British Museum. The lip of that vessel bears a very rare variety of the twist, an angular one.