The Designer’s Garden

The acanthus leaf has been a feature of architectural decoration for millennia. Abstractions of the spiky leaves (Acanthos in ancient Greek means thorny) and their complex outlines served as inspiration for design features throughout the western world.

From Roman architecture through Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts, Baroque and Neo-Classical Furniture and William Morris wallpapers, the acanthus leaf is a major player as a design feature.

William Morris Acanthus Design Wallpaper, circa 1875

Most famous for its appearance in the capitals of Corinthian columns, the inspiration for this versatile design feature is a humble plant.

Acanthus Mollis

The image above is of Acanthus Mollis as it flowers today in the Palatine Hills of Rome. Growing in the locations where the superstars of Roman Classical architecture built their foremost works, it must have inspired architects such as Vitruvius to incorporate it into his designs.

Artwork by Hans Sebald Beham (1500-1550)

In furniture the versatile acanthus leaf often refers to Classicism and can lend an air of gravitas or natural playfulness.

The acanthus motif appears on these elegant legs

Note the acanthus leaves that appear to drape over the top of the cabriole legs

This wine bottle stand emulates the natural lines of the acanthus leaf

The complexity of the design requires skillful hand carving to execute, using tools and techniques which have changed little over the centuries.

An artisan hand carves an acanthus design at Theodore Alexander

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