TOUR GUIDE ISRAEL
Tour Guide Israel – The Acantus flower in Roman and Byzantine architecture
הקוציץ הסורי בארכיטקטורה הרומית וביזנטית
In architecture, an ornament may be carved into stone or wood to resemble leaves from the Mediterranean species of the Acanthus plants, which have deeply cut leaves with some similarity to those of the thistle and poppy. Both Acanthus mollis and the still more deeply cut Acanthus spinosus have been claimed as the main model, and particular examples of the motif may be closer in form to one or the other species; the leaves of both are in any case, rather variable in form. The motif is found in decoration in nearly every medium.
The relationship between acanthus ornament and the acanthus plant has been the subject of a long-standing controversy between artists and historians.
Here is a short slideshow of the Acantus in full bloom. (Israel in the late spring 2014).
Greek and Roman
In Ancient Greek architecture acanthus ornament appears extensively in the capitals of the Corinthian order, and applied to other decorated areas. The oldest known example of a Corinthian column is in the Temple of Apollo in Arcadia (450–420 BC), but the order was used sparingly in Greece before the Roman period. The Romans elaborated the order with the ends of the leaves curled, and it was their favorite order for grand buildings. Acanthus decoration continued in popularity in Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic architecture. It saw a major revival in the Renaissance, and is still used today on many public buildings.
Some of the most detailed and elaborate acanthus decoration were used in important buildings of Byzantine architecture, where the leaves are undercut, drilled, and spread over a wide surface. Use of the motif continued in Medieval art, particularly in sculpture and wood carving and in friezes, although usually it is stylized and generalized, so that one doubts that the artists connected it with any plant in particular. After centuries without decorated capitals, they were revived enthusiastically in Romanesque architecture, often using foliage designs, including acanthus.
See the various “pieces” of architecture decorated by the Acantus flower design in this short slideshow.
This decoration (Corinthian order) is very common in most archaeological sites in Israel together with the Doric and Ionian orders. Here (in the Eastern Mediterranean), as a rough thumb-rule, Doric is well BC, Ionian is BC-AD and Corinthian is well AD. Although you should never forget – nobody throws a good building-stone away (too expensive) and often the old stone will be used again in a later building – the same as you do when you renovate your house.