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  • These 22 columns used to sit on the East Portico of the United States Capitol building, before they were movedhere.

  • And as strange as they are, they've got something in common with every other Corinthian column.

  • Something you have to look closer to see.

  • These are acanthus leaves.

  • Once you start looking for them, you'll notice them everywhere.

  • And these leaves?

  • They say something about why we have decorated columns in the first place.

  • Okay.

  • So there are different types, or orders, of columns you run into in classical architecture.

  • The most important stuff is at the top part, on what's called thecapital.”

  • The three big orders are Doricthink super basic.

  • Ionic: look for the swirly things, called volutes.

  • And Corinthianthat's where you want to look for the leaves.

  • Composite is similar, but with the volutes added in.

  • It's a little much.

  • Corinthian columns probably entered the mix around 550 BC, but through all these centuries of change, the ornamentation at the top stayed the same.

  • And those leaves?

  • They tell the columns' story.

  • There's a myth behind the acanthus's appearance on columns.

  • It comes from the Roman writer Vitruvius.

  • His legend was that a young girl died.

  • In mourning, her nurse put the girl's favorite stuff in a basket and set a tile on top of it.

  • But the basket was placed on top of an acanthus plant, which grew leaves that covered the entire weave.

  • A sculptor named Callimachus saw it, got inspired, and invented the Corinthian column.

  • Yeah, nosure, Vitruvius.

  • That's what happened.

  • But the myth does speak to what made the acanthus enduring.

  • It could grow from root cuttings.

  • These leaves showed up on Greek columns, though many are now lost.

  • They popped up in Roman architecture as the empire grew.

  • Some say the Greek and Roman columns had different acanthus species, but stylization has erased most of that distinction.

  • All the Corinthian columns' versions reflected the strength of the acanthus.

  • Eventually, the design of Corinthian column became strong enough to support itself through history.

  • The acanthus wasn't a given.

  • This is the plan for the United States Capitol's hall of columns.

  • Along with acanthus, it includes tobacco leaves.

  • Around the world, columns draw on different ancient references, but in the West, referencing classical ornamentation largely means following the same template.

  • Often there's creativity, as in this column capital at Chartres, but almost always, acanthus is in the mix.

  • These leaves don't just symbolize the strength of a plant.

  • They've come to represent the endurance of a culture's design.

  • The Capitol building's current columns still feature ornate acanthus leaves.

  • These columns were removed from the Capitol.

  • But acanthus leaves?

  • They may never be replaced.

  • So Vitruvius's real interest in these columns was probably more in the proportions than in the leaves.

  • That makes sense when you know that he is the person who was behind the Vitruvian man.

  • This guy.

  • It feels like I'm dancing now.

These 22 columns used to sit on the East Portico of the United States Capitol building, before they were movedhere.

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Why old buildings use the same leaf design

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    Evangeline posted on 2021/03/14
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