Architectural Ornament in Plant Forms
The oak leaf and acorn were also popular, but the acanthus was by far the most ubiquitous plant in the Classical vocabulary of ornament. The fame of the acanthus may have originated in a Greek legend, which tells of a young woman from the city of Corinth who died just before her marriage. After her burial her nurse gathered up some of her favorite possessions and put them in a basket, which she placed on the maiden’s grave as a memorial. She covered the basket’s top with a tile to weigh it down and keep out the rain.
But the basket rested on top of an acanthus root which, struggling to grow, pushed its tendrils out from under the basket. In time, the leaves curled around the base of the basket and under the tile lid. The legend’s end featured the architect Callimachus being inspired by the resulting composition to design the famous column capital we have labeled Corinthian, which comes in a variety of forms, as shown below in the drawing of a stack of Corinthian capitals.
The only verified part of the legend is that Callimachus was a real person mentioned by the Roman writer Pliny and the Greek traveler, Pausanias, as a builder of monuments in Corinth. He was also known for his bronze castings and may have replicated the acanthus leaves in his work.