The Anthemion

The Anthemion
The Anthemian

Loyal supporters of GVSHP know our logo well, but few know the true origins of this ancient architectural motif, found in any neighborhood in New York City containing Greek Revival buildings. In that department, the Village definitely tops the list.

The Anthemion

Allow us to explain…

Anthemia can be spotted on windows and doors on West 11th Street

A diagram from Lafever's "The Beauties of Modern Architecture"

The Anthemion, alternately known as the Palmette, has been a popular architectural emblem since Ancient Egypt. Used in abundance in the architecture of Ancient Greece, anthemia can be spotted in the capitals of Corinthian and Ionic Columns and entablatures. Anthemia were introduced in America in the 19th Century with the popular Greek Revival Style, which became fashionable in the 1830’s following Greece’s successful war of independence, following centuries of Ottoman domination and rule.

The Greek Revival style was particularly appealing to the fledgling American republic, the first modern democracy, which looked back to ancient Greece for inspiration as the birthplace of democracy.  The Greek Revival style came to supplant the simpler  Federal style in New York, which also carried associations to democracy and republicanism, but the Greek Revival style was more opulent in its architectural detail.

When Minard Lafever published his five pattern books in the 1830’s, the Greek Revival Style was already the most popular architectural style in the United States. The pattern books were marketed toward vernacular architects and featured schematics and diagrams of Greek Revival details. With their publication, Lefever pushed the style to new heights of popularity. A number of the diagrams feature anthemia,  such as one detailing a parlor window decorated with an anthemion at the top. Many of the architects building homes in the Village in the 1830s and 40s would have used Lafever’s books as inspiration.

Anthemia adorn the ironwork on Washington Square North

Chosen as our logo and the given name to our newsletter,  the anthemion can still be seen throughout the neighborhood, most notably in the original wrought iron fences and ornamentation atop the doorways of rowhouses.  The anthemion was meant as a symbol of welcome and hospitality, and some say the motif originated as an abstracted version of a pineapple, which connoted these qualities when given as a gift.

The motif is tucked into this East Village ironwork


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Brian Blazak is a research intern at GVSHP

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