Motifs are recurring decorative designs. They vary from culture to culture.
Although many motifs are used singly, they are most commonly repeated or alternated with other motifs to form "running" patterns. Interlinking forms are often used to make the pattern seamless.
Roman Inclination to Use Ornament
Other Architectural Features
Repeating patterns were often used for the borders of Roman floor mosaics.
A dentil is a block-shaped projection that is used in a series to support one of the moldings of a cornice. The name "dentil" reflects the resemblance of these small blocks to teeth.
The Greek key is a running pattern in which one or more lines progress along horizontal and vertical courses by making a series of right-angle turns. This pattern is also called a "meander" or "fret."
The guilloche pattern is formed by two or more bands twisting around each other in circular courses to form patterns that sometimes contain floral decorations. Tightly twisted bands form a rope-like twist, loosely twisted ones form circular or oval compartments, and multiple strands form an elaborate plait.
The Vitruvian scroll is a running pattern made up of a series of scrolls that are linked into a wave-like pattern, giving rise to its being called the wave pattern. It is also called the "running-dog" pattern.
An unusual feature of this pattern is that the background above the waves is an up-side-down version of waves.
Laurel or Bay Leaves
The conventionalized form of the acanthus leaf is broad and fringed with small lobes along the edges.
Acanthus leaves are an essential component of the capitals of the Corinthian and composite orders. They ornament forms such as modillions and moldings. Acanthus foliage is frequently used to form other motifs like rosettes or arabesques.
This motif evolved from the early practice of hanging garlands of agricultural produce and ox heads on altars on which the animals were sacrificed to the gods.
Honeysuckle and Lotus Blossoms
Honeysuckle and lotus blossoms are made up of fan-shaped clusters of petals or leaves springing from a single stem. The honeysuckle motif is also called a palmette.
When repeated or combined, they form an anthemion pattern.
The anthemion (pl. anthemia) is a pattern made up of a repetition of honeysuckle blossoms, lotus blossoms, or a combination of both.
Other leaf forms, especially scrolling devices representing conventionalized vines, are often included.
The festoon motif consists of garlands of leaves, fruits, or flowers that were generally tied with ribbons and cascaded between devices like bucrania, figures, or tripod bases.
Arabesque ornamentation is composed of plant forms like acanthus leaves and rosettes that are integrated with scrolling, vine-like forms. The discovery in the Renaissance of the ancient Roman palace, the Domus Aurea, which included arabesques in combination with other forms, inspired many Renaissance artists and architects to incorporate similar forms in decorating walls and ceilings.
Eggs, Leaves, Darts, and Tongues
The trophy motif, which celebrates victory, consists of a sculpted grouping of weapons, armor, and sometimes, festoons.
Trophies evolved from the Greek practice of suspending an assemblage of arms captured from the enemy from a post or cross or stacking arms on piles of stones.