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Carved Motifs in Antiques and Their Meanings

It is considered one of the oldest arts of humankind. Wood carving can be traced back to wooden spears from the Middle Paleolithic, such as the famous Clacton Spear, revealing how humans engaged in woodwork for millennia.
 Creating enthralling details, decorations, and works of art with a set of tools and by hand takes immense skill, patience, and artistry. Throughout the centuries, furniture created by master artisans had various common carving motifs that signified the popular motifs of that time. Surprisingly, many of these carving motifs had meanings, symbolizing more than just beauty.
 Today, we explore the timeless elegance and rich historical meanings behind the decorations and motifs commonly found in antique and antique reproductions.


 The acanthus or acanthus leaf ornament is a stylized version of a Mediterranean plant with jagged leaves known as Acanthus spinosus. The Greeks were the first to introduce Acanthus into their artistic decorations. They were especially prominent in the capital of Corinthian columns, showcasing a cluster of acanthus leaves. With the neo-classical revival in England during the eighteenth century, the acanthus leaf became a prominent feature in art, especially in wood carving. Cabinet makers used the acanthus leaf on furniture to provide an attractive balance between order and nature. Furniture designers from Thomas Chippendale to Robert Adam incorporated acanthus leaves.
 For example, you can see the use of beautiful acanthus leaves on this mahogany Wood Corbel.


 Acorns can be spotted on all shapes and sizes of antique furniture, from washstands to highboys. The acorn symbolizes the Oak tree, strength and longevity, enduring relationships, and firm faith.


 An astragal is a decorative moulding profile composed of a half-round surface surrounded by two flat plants called fillets. Occasionally, they may be referred to as miniature torus. It can mean an architectural element found at the top or base of a column, but it is also the term used for a framing device on furniture and woodwork.
 The use of astragal in antique furniture design is most prominently seen on glass. Some of the most famous examples of master cabinetry makers' use of astragal can be noted in the works of Thomas Chippendale, particularly within his display cabinets and his iconic chair backs.


 A cabochon is a carved detail, usually featuring a round shape or gem form. It can be highly polished, typically convex, sometimes surrounded by decorative elements or leaves, and commonly found on the knees of chair legs.

 Cabriole Leg

 A cabriole leg is a leg on a piece of furniture that features a double curve. This is a stylized representation of an animal's hind leg with an elongated "S" shape where the foot ends in the form of a hoof, bun, paw, claw, and ball or scroll feet.

 Flame Palmette

 The palmette is a motif that resembles the fan-shaped leaves of a palm tree in its most stylized expression. Originating in ancient Egypt, this motif went through several interpretations as it swept through Eurasia. Flame palmettes showcase softly curled leaves or rounded leaves, while traditional palm tree leaf carvings have sharply splaying leaves.
 In Egypt, the palmette represented lower and upper Egypt and their fertile union. In Greek pottery, it was often interspersed with scenes of heroic deeds.


 Gadrooning is a decorative motif that features convex curves in a series. Within antique furniture, it provides a gorgeous ornamental carved band. This carved band can consist of tapered, curving, and sometimes alternating concave and convex sections. For example, the French Normandy Armoire showcases decorative gadrooning in exquisite detail.
 Gadrooning originated from Roman sarcophagi and other antiquities and was used frequently during the Italian Renaissance and the 18th to 19th-century designs.


 Grapes are one of the oldest cultivated fruits and have appeared as a decorative motif in almost every culture. Finding an antique piece of furniture with grapes on the vine or grapes carved in the décor was not uncommon. During the turn of the 1600s to 1700s, Grinling Gibbons was, at the time, one of the most influential and possibly the most delicate wood carvers of his time. He worked with nature carving ornate leaves, flowers, and grapes –a common theme in his pieces. A century later, Victorian furniture would still reflect his influence.
 Grapes symbolize many things. In ancient times, grapes were only available to the wealthy and thus often designated wealth. Grapes represent celebration, decadence, God, youth, and good health. Our Rococo Console Table with Grape Details is an excellent example of this motif.

 Knuckled Arm

 Knuckled arms, sometimes also known as Scrolled Knuckle arms, are named for their knuckle-shaped carving found at the end of a chair's arm. It can come in several forms but is often a standard arm carving in antiques from Chippendale and Regency-era furniture. A great example of knuckled arms can be seen in the Mahogany Chippendale Arm Chair.


 A rosette carving is generally circular, simulating the petals of a stylized flower. The rosette design derives its shape from the botanical rosette, formed by leaves radiating from the plant's stem. The rosette design is used frequently in antique furniture and homes. It appeared in Mesopotamia, in funeral steles' decorations in Ancient Greece, and as an important symbol of Ishtar. It was adopted later in Romanesque and Renaissance architecture and wood carving.
 In Ukrainian and Polish homes of antiquity, a six-petaled rosette was often carved into large wooden crossbeams that supported the ceiling, believed to protect a house against misfortune and especially fire.


 Shell carving is a motif meant to look like shells. This was a popular design to carve into furniture in early Georgian furniture and eighteenth-century English antiques and can be found in various pieces. The history of the use of shells dates to Ancient Greece and Rome. The shell was a sign of fertility and associated with the goddess Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty. One shell, the scallop shell, became particularly popular due to its pleasant arched form and symmetry.
 A fantastic example of a shell motif is featured in the detailed apron of the Chippendale Lowboy.


 A patera or paterae is a circular or oval ornament resembling a dish, often decorated with leaves and petals. It is used in architecture and on furnishings, commonly seen in a frieze in architecture or on a corner block in furniture. We can see patera decorating the four corners on the George III Large Urn Console Table.
 Beautifully carved floral and decorative motifs on antique furniture are a pleasure to the eye. At Laurel Crown, we are honored and humbled to continue the many traditions and hand-crafted excellence found in some of the world's most legendary master carpenters and carvers. Each of our antique reproductions is a testament to artisans from past centuries. If you would love to know more about the carved details, motifs, and symbols found on our exquisite pieces, please feel free to reach out and contact us.  

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