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Palmette

Encyclopedy Index

As an illustration of the way in which the palmette motif was seen by 19th century architects and decorators, who in Europe, America and elsewhere in colonial cities created their own unending variations on the motif as a kind of hallmark of taste and authenticity in neo-classical urban architecture, the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica contained the following item on the palmette:

"Palmette also called anthemion (from the Greek ανθεμιον, a flower) is an art style based on the fan-shaped leaves of a palm tree.
This fan-like pattern of pages appealed enough to the designers of Wikipedia for them to adopt it as the background to every page. This could be because, through its resemblance to a palmette, it resonates with unconscious echoes of sacrifice, fertility and rebirthThis article explores the origins and evolution of the motif in the ancient world, describes the consistently important role it has played and some of the numerous forms in which it has reappeared in successive societies and religious traditions, and examines the nature and significance of the common themes that emerge.

Description
As an ornamental motif found in architecture, sculpture, textile design and a wide range of other media, the palmette and anthemion take many and varied forms. Typically, the upper part of the motif consists of five or more leaves or petals fanning rhythmically upwards from a single triangular or lozenge-shaped source at the base. In some instances fruits resembling palm fruits hang down on either side above the base and below the lowest leaves. The lower part consists of a symmetrical pair of elegant 'S' scrolls or volutes curling out sideways and downwards from the base of the leaves. The upper part recalls the thrusting growth of leaves and flowers, while the volutes of the lower part seem to suggest both contributing fertile energies and resulting fruits. It is often present on the necking of the capital of ionic order columns; however in column capitals of the Corinthian order it takes the shape of a 'fleuron' or flower resting against the abacus (top-most slab) of the capital and springing out from a pair of volutes which, in some versions, give rise to the elaborate volutes and acanthus ornament of the capital. In the repeated border design commonly referred to as anthemion the palm fronds more closely resemble petals of the honeysuckle flower, as if designed to attract fertilizing insects. Some compare the shape to an open 'hamsa'hand - explaining the commonality and derivation of the 'palm' of the hand. In some forms of the motif the volutes or scrolls resemble a pair of eyes, like those on the harmika of the Tibetan or Nepalese stupa and the eyes and sun-disk at the crown of Egyptian stelae. In some variants the features of a more fully-developed face become discernable in the palmette itself, while in certain architectural uses, usually at the head of pilasters or herms, the fan of palm-fronds transforms into a male or female face and the volutes sometimes appear as breasts. Common to all these forms is the pair of volutes at the base of the fan - constituting the defining characteristics of the palmette.


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