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  • Bruce Tattersall
  •  and Eva Wilson


Ornamental motif based on the leaves of the acanthus plant, an evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean area. Two species have been proposed as likely models for different forms of decorative leaf motifs: Acanthus mollis, with broad, blunt tips to the leaves, and Acanthus spinosus, with comparatively narrow leaves and pointed lobes terminating in spines. Acanthus leaves added to a lotus and palmette border gave rise to a motif known as Anthemion. The acanthus was described by Alois Riegl as a variant of the palmette motif (for discussion and illustration see Palmette). The acanthus leaf’s spiky form and scrolling growth made it highly suitable for both ornamental and architectonic use, although, after its initial introduction in Greek art and architecture, the motif rarely corresponded closely to a particular species of plant; throughout its long history the leaf ornaments known as acanthus were imaginary designs adapted variously with no reference to any living plant. In various forms, it was one of the most widely used types of foliage motif from antiquity until the late 19th century....

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