Monday, August 29, 2011

Update on the Acanthus Design Source

Reading the Wall Street Journal daily doesn't usually generate a lot of excitement, although I must admit I always find something each day that intrigues me. And my reading definitely educates me about the present craziness in the world markets! Why else does one read read a particular magazine or newspaper so faithfully?  "Meat" or entertainment, right?

Today I let out a "whoop" that shot my husband's head up to attention. "What, What?!" he questioned.

"I've discovered another thread of history about the design of the acanthus plant on the antique quilt I bought a couple of months ago."

"Oh, ... ."

Ok, so my discovery isn't so exciting to someone who doesn't track down design sources found on quilts.

Nevertheless, he does understand my excitement for it is another piece of the puzzle in my research on this particular Four-Block acanthus quilt that I wrote about in this blog in June! Click here to see the earlier post about this quilt.

Christain Sahner, a Rhodes Scholar and doctoral candidate in history, writes in the first paragraph of his article "Temple of the 'Bride of the Desert,'"

Each night at sunset, the "bride of the desert," as she has been known for centuries, gets dressed for her wedding. In those last moments of daylight, she dons a robe of stunning colors—the buttery yellow of her limestone columns mixing with the blue shadows of her temples and the soft pinks of the desert floor. It is a scene that has inspired countless cultural suitors over the centuries, from Persians and Romans to Georgian Britons and Arab Nationalists. But could a new suitor materialize out of the current turmoil in Syria?

Powerful imagery!

James Dawkins and Robert Wood Discovering the Ruins of Palmyra - painted 1758,
 National Gallery of Scotland

Sahner goes on to write:

First settled in the third millennium B.C., the city made her fortunes as a trading depot. Silk, Palmyra's prized commodity, began its westward journey at the Indian port of Barbaricon, passing by boat to Seleucia and Babylon, before traveling by caravan to Palmyra, and then on to the Mediterranean coast.
Now he really had my attention because I like to weave the fascinating stories about ancient trade routes and the economic history of cotton into my lectures on the history of quilting.

The temple above was constructed around the turn of the first millennium A.D. and still dominates Palmyra and the modern city of Tadmor.  What caught my eye was the freeze along the top of the temples portico.

There was the acanthus plant again!  Sahner writes:

On the north side, there is a much-eroded zodiac motif, set within a detailed coffered ceiling. 

On the south side, a large acanthus medallion sprouts amid a field of stone rosettes, as delicate as on the day they were first chiseled. In the late 18th century, these designs found their way into the parlors of posh English homes, thanks to the sketches of the antiquarians James Dawkins and Robert Wood, who visited Palmyra in 1751.

This doesn't mean the design may not have been there earlier on some object imported from the Middle East, but here was a direct reference to this design being brought into England by two named individuals!

Compare it to the quilt's applique pattern once more.

Next: an update on the visit of Cathy and John Miller to Lopez Island and the quilt history Cathy sets to music and my visit to the Pacific West Quilt Show in Tacoma, Washington.


Karen Alexander


  1. I am so excited for you! Thanks for keeping us posted on the new information.

  2. It is amazing that quilt history can come from such unexpected places!....Good work!!