AntiquesDictionary of antiques

The dictionary of antiques – Acanthus

Today’s word is: acanthus. Let’s find out what this decorative element is and how it is used. Finally, a little curiosity about the acanthus leaf.

What is acanthus?

The acanthus is an ornamental motif depicting, in fact, the acanthus leaf, a Mediterranean plant. It is reproduced in stylized form and was undoubtedly one of the most used ornamental motifs ever; both in applied arts and architecture.


Composite capital

The first to use the acanthus leaf were the Greeks. In particular, it was used on Corinthian and composite capitals. The oldest example is a Corinthian column in the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae in Messinia (Peloponnese), dating from the second half of the fifth century BC.

Later it was also used by the Romans and in the Renaissance. After this era, this ornamental motif, also enters the decoration of furniture and objects. It was not only used in capitals as in ancient Greece but also as an ornament of frames, bands, friezes, legs …

An example of an acanthus leaf

The style that benefited most from the acanthus leaf was the Baroque. It is precisely for this reason that today to better explain this term we have decided to show you a pair of Lombard-Venetian baroque balustrades present in our antique warehouses in Cambiago.


This pair of balustrades is made of pine wood carved with rocaille, foliaceous swirls and floral motifs. They have two six-light chandeliers in wrought iron and gilded sheet metal, the latter worked with foliaceous motifs. If you are interested in learning more there is an entire article written by Valentina dedicated to this couple.


The acanthus leaf is an essential element of the Corinthian order, indeed it is said to have been the main inspiration for it.

The Roman writer Vitruvius, in fact, claims that the Corinthian order was invented by Callimachus struck by the sight of a votive basket on the tomb of a young girl covered with these leaves.

If you want to discover all our antiques adorned with this decorative motif, you just have to come and visit us in our stores in Milan and Cambiago (with over 4000 square meters of warehouse). We are waiting for you!

Amo l'arte. Ho fatto ingegneria gestionale.

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