THE leaf of the Acanthus plant, pictured here growing in the ruins of the Palatine Hill in Rome, is architecturally renowned. Acanthus spinosus is the model for the stylized decoration on Corinthian and Composite capitals. You have seen it on classical buildings many times. History has it that this Mediterranean thistle was the inspiration for the Corinthian capital designed by the Greek sculptor Callimachus in the fifth century B.C. According to the Roman writer and architect Vitruvius:
A Corinthian virgin fell ill and died. After her burial her nurse placed a basket of her favorite possessions on her tomb and put a tile on top to preserve its contents. The basket was accidentally placed on the root of an acanthus, which grew around the tile, and so formed volutes at its corner.
Callimachus passed by the tomb, saw the basket, and pleased with the form and novelty of this composition, was inspired to construct columns of this style in the country about Corinth, and arranged its proportions.”
I learned these vital facts yesterday while quizzing my 17-year-old son with these excellent architectural flash cards by Gwen Headley.