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date: 07 July 2020


  • Eva Wilson


Motif consisting of a fan of graded spines or lobes supported by spirals. Its origins are obscure, but similar motifs are first recorded in Syria and Mesopotamia and in the islands of the eastern Mediterranean (e.g. in wall paintings in the palace of the Mitanni at Nuzi in Assyria, c. 15th century bc) in the course of the 2nd millennium bc. The spiral, one of its basic elements, was the dominant decorative motif in the Bronze Age in the ancient Near East. As the stylized floral motifs of ancient Egypt, the lotus, papyrus, lily and palm (see Egypt, ancient, §VI, 20), were disseminated throughout the area, spiral and floral elements from the two decorative traditions were combined in a wide range of designs that had rising lobes and supporting spirals in common.

The word ‘palmette’ suggests that the motif was derived from representations of palm-trees, especially in view of the belief that a tree cult may have existed in western Asia in association with the introduction of the cultivated date-palm (Stevenson Smith). Tree motifs occur prominently in wall paintings in all of the Assyrian palaces. The ...

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