Illustrated Architecture Dictionary ............................. Illustrated Furniture Glossary .



A curve that winds around a fixed point and does not backtrack upon itself

Each whorl is a complete turn of the curve around the axis, and may be on one plane, or in an ascending or conical shape like a shell.

The spiral is the basis for the volutes of classic capitals, scrolls, or twisted rope turnings.

Other examples are a spiral staircase and a spiral leg and a spiral column.

Spiral, Meander, Key Pattern, Maze

The spiral is a universal element in all decoration, in primitive as well as in the most sophisticated art. The running spiral (also known as running dog,wave scroll or Vitruvian scroll) and the meander (also known as Greek fret, Greek key, labyrinth, maze, key pattern) are curved and angular variations of the same motif.

Other figures, for example the four-strand spiral and the swastika, are similarly related.

Spiral and meander motifs, and their intermediate forms, have a long history in the Mediterranean....

Meanders and key patterns are today closely associated with Greek art and architecture. In the formalized Orders of architecture the meander motif was assigned to flat vertical surfaces. In the eighteenth-century European revival of interest in classical Greece as a source of ornament, it was the in the meander and key patterns which, above all others, signified Greek style and taste.

It is generally accepted that the name of the motif [meander] refers to the winding river Meander in Anatolia, Turkey... The connection with water perhaps persists in Roman times, when the motif is frequently used on mosaic floors in bath houses.With few exceptions, these motifs carry no symbolic messages in Greek andRoman art.

In Greek vase painting of the fifth century BC, however, the meander became associated with a popular story drawn from the legends concerning King Minos of Crete, the story of Theseus slaying the Minotaur and finding his way in and out of the labyrinth. In these representations Theseus and the Minotaur - part bull, part man - are shown as realistic figures, while the Labyrinth is often indicated by a simple meander border, attached to a door post or pillar representing the entrance. In these scenes, therefore, the meander border became the conventional sign or ideogram for the Labyrinth.

- British Museum Pattern Books: Roman Designs, by Eva Wilson, 1999, p. 12.


"The spiral column is one of the interesting details in the study of antique furniture. It was a form of turning, not carving, and was a favorite form of ornamentation of cane chairs from about 1660 to 1700. It is also seen on other articles of about the same period, such as the tables ... and the clocks. ... This spiral column is not to be confused with the spiral column of a different character seen on articles in the Late Sheraton and the Empire styles." - Edgar G. Miller, Jr., American Antique Furniture, 1937, Vol. 1, p. 122


Photos and their arrangement © 2005 Chuck LaChiusa
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