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.
Most famous for its appearance in the capitals of Corinthian columns, the inspiration for this versatile design feature is a humble plant.
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.
In furniture the versatile acanthus leaf often refers to Classicism and can lend an air of gravitas or natural playfulness.
The complexity of the design requires skillful hand carving to execute, using tools and techniques which have changed little over the centuries.