acanthus
A plant, indigenous to middle Europe, the leaf of which has served in all ages as an ornament, or for ornamentation. There are two varieties, one wild and thorny, and one with soft branches without spines. The acanthus appears for the first time in the arts in ancient Greece. It was chosen for decorative purposes because of the beauty of its leaves, as well as for its abundance on Greek soil. At first it was taken directly from nature. Greek sculpture rendered it with truthful expression, whether of the soft or the spiky variety, showing the character, texture, and model of the leaf. During the fifth century B.C. the acanthus ornament took an important place especially in architecture, and was the principal ornament of the Corinthian capital. From the conquest of Alexander in the East can be traced the transformation of the acanthus that is found in later Eastern art.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I Copyright � 1907 by Robert Appleton Company