era to decorate:
# the fronts of ante-fixae,
# the upper portion of the stele or vertical tombstones,
# the and its continuation as a decorative frieze on the walls of the same, and
# the cymatium of a cornice. Though generally known as the honeysuckle ornament, from its resemblance to that flower [] , its origin will be found in the plant."


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 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.


It is thought that the palmette originated in ancient Egypt, and was originally based on features of various flowers, including the papyrus and the lotus or lily representing lower and upper Egypt and their fertile union, before it became associated with the palm tree. From earliest times there was a strong association with the sun and it is probably an early form of the halo.Among the oldest forms of the palmette in ancient Egypt was a 'rosette' or daisy-like lotus flower [ [ Page Redirecting ] ] emerging from a 'V' of foliage or petals resembling the 'akhet' hieroglyph depicting the setting or rising sun at the point where it touches the two mountains of the horizon - 'dying', being 'reborn' and giving life to the earth. A second form, apparently evolved from this, is a more fully-developed palmette [ [ Ancient Egyptian Art | Amulet in the shape of a palmette | F1907.436 ] ] similar to the forms found in Ancient Greece.. When the sun is re-born in the morning it is said to be born from the womb of Nut. The stylized palmette-forms of the lotus and papyrus showing the solar rosette or daisy-wheel emerging from the volutes of the calyx are similar magical enactments of the 'akhet' - this sacred moment of enhanced creation, the act of transcending or surpassing one's mortal form and 'going forth by day' as an 'akh' or higher, winged, shining, all-encompassing and all-seeing form of life.

Most early Egyptian forms of the motif appear later in Crete, Mesopotamia, Assyria and Ancient Persia, including the daisy-wheel-style lotus and bud border [ [ FORGOTTEN EMPIRE the world of Ancient Persia | 118 ] ] . In the form of the palmette that appears most frequently on Greek pottery [ [ The New Greek Galleries | Explore & Learn | The Metropolitan Museum of Art ] ] , often interspersed with scenes of heroic deeds, the same motif is bound within a leaf-shaped or lotus-bud shaped outer line. The outer line can be seen to have evolved from an alternating frieze of stylized lotus and palmette [ [ Water Jar (Getty Museum) ] ] . This anticipates the form it often took - from renaissance sculpture through to baroque fountains - of the inside of a half scallop shell, in which the palm fronds have become the fan of the shell and the scrolls remain at the convergence of the fan. Here the shape was associated with or wrought-iron work of gates and balconies is made up of ever-varying combinations these C-scrolls, either on their own, back to back, or in support of full palmettes.

Variants and related motifs

The palmette is related to a range of motifs in differing cultures and periods. In ancient Egypt palmette motifs existed both as a form of flower and as a stylized tree, often referred to as a Tree of Life. Other examples from ancient Egypt are the alternating lotus flower and bud border [ [ Stone door sill ] ] designs, the winged disk with its pair of uraeus serpents, the Eye of Horus and curve-topped commemorative stele. In later Assyrian versions of the Tree of Life, the feathered falcon wings of the Egyptian winged disk [ [ Egyptianizing figures on either side of a tree with a winged disk [Mesopotamia, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu) | Work of Art | Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum o... ] ] have become associated with the fronds of the palm tree. Similar lotus flower and bud borders, closely associated with palmettes and rosettes, also appeared in Mesopotamia. There appears to be an equivalence between the horns of horned creatures, the wings of winged beings [ [,%20Nimrud.%20Iraq.jpg] Dead link|date=August 2008] including angels, griffins and sphinxes and both the fan and the volutes of the palmette; there is also an underlying 'V' shape in each of these forms that parallels the association of the palm itself with victory, energy and optimism.An image of Nike, winged goddess of victory, from an attic vase of the 6th century BC, shows how the sacrificial offering alluded to by the voluted altar and flame, the wings of the goddess and the victory being celebrated, all resonate with the same multiple underlying associations carried within the component forms of the palmette motif. Similar forms are found in the hovering winged disc and sacred trees [ [ King on either side of a sacred Tree ] ] of Mesopotamia, the caduceus wand of Hermes, the ubiquitous scrolled scallop shells in the canopy of the renaissance sculptural niche, originating in Greek and Roman sarcophagi, echoed above theatrical proscenium arches [ [ Cinema Treasures | Overview ] ] and on the doors, windows, wrought iron gates and balconies [] of palaces and grand houses; the shell-like fanlight over the door in Georgian [ [] Dead link|date=August 2008] and similar urban architecture, the 'gul' [ [ TurkoTek: Oriental Rugs, Salor Images ] ] and [ [ IMAGOMAG - Banque d'images ] ] 'boteh' motifs of Central Asian carpets and textiles, the trident of Neptune/, another version of the world tree, took on its palmette form under gallo-Roman influence.

Even everyday garden gates throughout Western suburbia are topped with almost identical pairs of scrolls seemingly derived from the motifs associated with the 'akhet' and the palmette, including the related winged sun-disk and sun disk flanked with a pair of eyes. Churchyard gates, tombs [ [ Highgate Cemetery West : London Cemeteries ] ] and gravestones bear the motif over and again in different forms.

Issues of interpretation

Ornamental motifs are often treated as though they were pleasing elements of decoration but devoid of meaning, or their meaning is considered to be lost and indecipherable. It is assumed that particular motifs were chosen by craftsmen because they or their patrons were fond of them. This is reinforced by the absence of commentary on meaning or rationale for choice of motifs from the myriad potters, draftsmen, sculptors and metalworkers who have worked with the motif. However the palmette is a good example of a motif which, even if its meaning is not articulated by the craftsmen themselves, lends itself to meaningful interpretation in view of the consistency of the functional context and positioning in which it recurs throughout its long history and its continuing use by artists.

The possibility also exists that the meaning of ornamental motifs became, or had always been, , Chronicles of Narnia [ [ Photos from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ] ] ) without the audience receiving any explanation or otherwise being made explicitly aware of the reasons or significance.

Deducing meaning from context and placement

Both in ancient and in modern usage, in East and West, the grouping of motifs we have discussed has a sacred, auspicious and often magical or miracle-working connotation, further incorporating a sublimation of sexual union and fertility. Associated both with flowers and with palm trees, the palmette brings together the fertility symbolism of both. Both the calyx of the flower and the crown of the palm tree are the centre of reproductive activity and the source of new growth, and both are graphically associated with human sexuality. The method of artificial fertilization of pistillate (female) flowers of the palm tree using the staminate (male) flowers seems to have been known to the ancient world, as depicted in Assyrian reliefs [ [] ] apparently showing the sprinkling of pollen on a stylized palm-tree with palmette-flowers.

The most common placement of the palmette or anthemion in the ancient world was its architectural use in a repeating pattern as a border, frame or frieze. In this 'ornamental' role it supports and points to the 'main' image (deity, hero, martyr, saint...) housed in the 'naos' or 'cella' of the temple or mounted on the wall panel that it frames. Like the images themselves which are visible manifestations of invisible forces or principles, the palmette in this sense 'merely' points to where the truth can be found - not through the image itself but by the process of personal revelatory experience that the image helps to initiate. Border motifs, moldings and patterns thus convey humility and self sacrifice: asking the viewer to look beyond them to more important truths and realities. However it should be remembered that in capturing the idea of humility such motifs often themselves directly convey the essential message of the main

In this context the palmette or anthemion remained the principal ornament in the frames [ [ Abe Munn Picture Frames, Inc.-American Frame Styles ] ] of fine paintings, whose essence is often the capture of moments of revelation, inspiration, annunciation, nativity or spiritual rebirth; in the proscenium arch of theatres, as the setting for the moving images of the drama, and over mirrors, which also reveal hidden truths and seem to offer passage to other worlds and their heightened levels of experience and awareness.

Recalling its use as an apotropaic amulet in Ancient Egypt, it is found in a protective, guardian role at boundary passages such as bridges and gates, over other openings such as doors, windows and balconies, and as the standard ornament for door handles [ [ Door Push Plates for Home Renovation in Solid Brass ] ] and keyhole masks. There is a similar association between the palmette and the Athenian phallic boundary markers [ [] ] , named herms, from which the messenger-god Hermes is said to have evolved, and with the Caduceus, the wand of Hermes, the tip of which echoes the Egyptian winged disk, while the interlaced serpents recall the uraeus, and with the of South and South East Asia. The ideas of frames, borders, boundary markers (and messengers) are linked. They all act as pointers - but at the same time as guardians and filters - to a womb-like inner sanctum where, under cover of a metaphorical form penetrable only to the feeling eye, fertility and new life are generated, and to which only selected, suitably humble and self-effacing aspirants may be admitted.

In other uses the palmette is not always positioned self-effacingly as if for ornament only, but is also typically given prominence at the apex [ [ Marble Akroterion [Greek, Attic | Work of Art | Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art ] ] or acroterion of roofs and pediments and over ritual spaces such as niches [ [ Niche Caps ] ] , altar pieces and [ fireplaces] , where it appears to designate the place as sacred, or to confer a blessing. In this role the palmette is a central feature of monumental tombs and war memorials that are 'sacred to the memory of ...' - denoting remembrance in perpetuity of those who are now seen to have given their lives for others, and echoing its original function of assisting the passage of the soul to immortality. In such instances there is often a richly carved acroterion at the apex, flanked by two 'acroteria angularia' projecting at the lower corners of the triangle of the pediment, also carved in the form of a palmette or honeysuckle-petaled anthemion. This triad was originally found on ancient Greek altars and subsequently on Greek and Roman sarcophagi. Such prominent treatments suggest that, beyond its support role in frames and borders, the palmette itself has at certain points in its history been the direct object of veneration.

It is all-pervasive at the dinner table - a shared ritual transformation of the material to the spiritual - being the basis of the traditional designs of dining chair backs [ [ MAK ] ] , silverware [ [] ] , dinner plates, serving bowls, ceiling roses, lampshades and other items which still find echoes in many contemporary versions.

In clear allusion to their association with love, union and fertility, palmettes feature on bedspreads, and on both wooden and iron bedsteads [ [ Touch of Class - Home Furnishings, Comforters, Bedspreads, Area Rugs, Wall Art, Curtains ] ] .

In its talisman-like association with fortune and wish-fulfilment it still plays an important part in the fantasia of fairground attractions [ [ Archive ] ] , especially merry-go-rounds [] and until recently was found prominently on one-armed bandit [] gambling machines, juke boxes [] , home radio sets [] and .

Common themes

The placement of the palmette-related motifs in ancient Egypt was on the lower registers of temple walls representing emergence of the first fertile mound from the chaos of the primal swamp, on that is capable of guiding and inspiring new forms of adaptive growth and development.


*Additions to this article contributed by Enyama acknowledge information and insights drawn from the following publications:
* 1. Jessica Rawson, Chinese Ornament: The Lotus and the Dragon; ISBN 0-7141-1431-6, British Museum Pubns Ltd, 1984
* 2. Alois Riegl, Stilfragen. Grundlegungen zu einer Geschichte der Ornamentik. Berlin 1893
* 3. Helene J. Kantor, Plant Ornament in the Ancient Near East, Revised: August 11 1999, Copyright © 1999 Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
* 4. Idris Parry, Speak Silence, ISBN 0-85635-790-1, Carcanet Press Ltd., 1988
* 5. Gombrich, Symbolic

* 6. Ernst H. Gombrich, The Sense of Order, A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art, Phaidon, 1985

Additional references

ee also

* Tree of life
* Fleur-de-lis
* Christmas tree
* Blue Egyptian Water Lily

External links

* [ Ancient Egypt, the tree of life]
* [ Plant Ornament : Its Origin and Development in the Ancient Near East]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • palmette — [ palmɛt ] n. f. • 1694; de 1. palme 1 ♦ Archit. Ornement en forme de feuille de palmier. 2 ♦ (1842) Arbor. Forme de taille des arbres fruitiers en espalier. ● palmette nom féminin Ornement, motif stylisé en forme de feuille de palmier, à… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Palmette [1] — Palmette, palmenblattförmige Verzierung, die besonders im griechischen Baustil oft zur Zierde der Stirnziegel (s. Akroterien, Fig. 1) und in Gestalt von Palmettenreihen zum Schmuck der Gesimsglieder, gemalt oder in Relief (vgl. die nebenstehende… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Palmette — Pal*mette , n. [F., dim. of palme a palm.] A floral ornament, common in Greek and other ancient architecture; often called {the honeysuckle ornament}. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Palmette [2] — Palmette, Zwergobstbaumform, s. Obstbau …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Palmette — Palmette, eine aus mehreren aufrechtgestellten Blättern bestehende und von einem Zentralpunkt ausgehende Anordnung von Blattformen, die zuerst in der griechischen Kunst eine durchgebildete und schöne Gestalt erhielt (s. Akroterium und Anthemion,… …   Lexikon der gesamten Technik

  • Palmette — A woollen shawl made in France. The ground is of two fold wool warp and combed wool weft and carded wool yarn is used for figuring …   Dictionary of the English textile terms

  • palmette — [pal met′, pal′met΄] n. [Fr < palme, palm < L palma,PALM1] Archit. a conventional ornament somewhat resembling a palm leaf …   English World dictionary

  • Palmette — Décor de palmette du pont Demidov à Saint Pétersbourg La palmette est un motif décoratif en forme de feuille de palmier. Les palmettes peuvent prendre différentes formes : larges (on dit grasses ) et lobées, ou au contraire plus effilées, à… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Palmette — mehrere Antefixe aus Ton Die Palmette (franz. Palmbäumchen) ist eine symmetrische Abstraktion eines Palmenwipfels als Grundform der Ornamentik. Die Palmette kann einzeln vorkommen (z. B. zur Bekrönung von Stelen), wird aber meistens wiederholt… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Palmette — Pal|mẹt|te 〈f. 19〉 dem fächerförmigen Palmblatt ähnliche Verzierung * * * Pal|mẹt|te, die; , n [frz. palmette, Vkl. von: palme < lat. palma, ↑ Palme]: 1. (Kunstwiss.) palmblattähnliches, streng symmetrisches Ornament griechischen Ursprungs.… …   Universal-Lexikon

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