World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Acanthus (ornament)

Article Id: WHEBN0003416422
Reproduction Date:

Title: Acanthus (ornament)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Motif (visual arts), Corinthian order, Arabesque (European art), Palmette, History of the Indo-Greek Kingdom
Collection: Ancient Greek Architecture, Ornaments, Visual Motifs
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Acanthus (ornament)

Composite capital with acanthus leaves
Acanthus spinosus in flower

The acanthus is one of the most common plant forms to make foliage ornament and decoration.[1]


  • Architecture 1
    • Greek and Roman 1.1
    • Byzantine 1.2
  • Gallery 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


In architecture, an ornament may be carved into stone or wood to resemble leaves from the Mediterranean species of the Acanthus genus of plants, which have deeply cut leaves with some similarity to those of the thistle and poppy. Both Acanthus mollis and the still more deeply cut Acanthus spinosus have been claimed as the main model, and particular examples of the motif may be closer in form to one or the other species; the leaves of both are in any case, rather variable in form. The motif is found in decoration in nearly every medium.

The relationship between acanthus ornament and the acanthus plant has been the subject of a long-standing controversy. Alois Riegl argued in his Stilfragen that acanthus ornament originated as a sculptural version of the palmette, and only later, began to resemble Acanthus spinosus.[2]

Greek and Roman

In Ancient Greek architecture acanthus ornament appears extensively in the capitals of the Corinthian and Composite orders, and applied to friezes, dentils, and other decorated areas. The oldest known example of a Corinthian column is in the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae in Arcadia, circa 450–420 BC, but the order was used sparingly in Greece before the Roman period. The Romans elaborated the order with the ends of the leaves curled, and it was their favourite order for grand buildings, with their own invention of the Composite, which was first seen in the epoch of Augustus.[3] Acanthus decoration continued in popularity in Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic architecture. It saw a major revival in the Renaissance, and still is used today.

The Roman writer Vitruvius (circa 75 BC – circa 15 BC) related that the Corinthian order had been invented by Callimachus, a Greek architect and sculptor who was inspired by the sight of a votive basket that had been left on the grave of a young girl. A few of her toys were in it, and a square tile had been placed over the basket, to protect them from the weather. An acanthus plant had grown through the woven basket, mixing its spiny, deeply cut leaves with the weave of the basket.


Some of the most detailed and elaborate acanthus decoration occurs in important buildings of Byzantine architecture, where the leaves are undercut, drilled, and spread over a wide surface. Use of the motif continued in Medieval art, particularly in sculpture and wood carving and in friezes, although usually it is stylized and generalized, so that one doubts that the artists connected it with any plant in particular. After centuries without decorated capitals, they were revived enthusiastically in Romanesque architecture, often using foliage designs, including acanthus. Curling acanthus-type leaves occur frequently in the borders and ornamented initial letters of illuminated manuscripts, and are commonly found in combination with palmettes in woven silk textiles. In the Renaissance classical models were followed very closely, and the acanthus becomes clearly recognisable again in large-scale architectural examples. The term is often also found describing more stylized and abstracted foliage motifs, where the similarity to the species is weak.


See also


  1. ^ Lewis, Philippa; Darley, Gillian (1986). Dictionary of Ornament. New York: Pantheon. p. not cited. 
  2. ^ Riegl, A; Kain, E (trans.) (1992). Problems of style: foundations for a history of ornament. Princeton. pp. 187–206. 
  3. ^ Strong, D.E. (1960). "Some early examples of the composite capital".  

External links

  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.