Motif (visual arts)

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For other uses, see Motif (disambiguation).
Composite capital with acanthus leaves
Plant motif, Taj Mahal

In art and iconography, a motif About this sound (pronunciation)  is an element of an image. A motif may be repeated in a pattern or design, often many times, or may just occur once in a work.[1] A motif may be an element in the iconography of a particular subject or type of subject that is seen in other works, or may form the main subject, as the Master of Animals motif in ancient art typically does. The related motif of confronted animals is often seen alone, but may also be repeated, for example in Byzantine silk and other ancient textiles.

Ornamental or decorative art can usually be analysed into a number of different elements, which can be called motifs. These may often, as in textile art, be repeated many times in a pattern. Important examples in Western art include acanthus, egg and dart,[2] and various types of scrollwork.

Many designs in mosques in Islamic culture are motifs, including those of the sun, moon, animals such as horses and lions, flowers, and landscapes. Motifs can have emotional effects and be used for propaganda.[3]

The term has become used more broadly in discussing literature and other narrative arts for a particular element or section in the story that represents a theme; see Motif (narrative).


Geometric, typically repeated: Meander, palmette, rosette, gul in Oriental rugs, acanthus, egg and dart, Bead and reel, Pakudos, Sauwastika, Adinkra symbols.

Figurative: Master of Animals, confronted animals, velificatio, Death and the Maiden, Three hares, Sheela na gig.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Art glossary". Retrieved December 13, 2011. 
  2. ^ Lucy T. Shoe, Profiles of Greek Mouldings 1936, supplemented by Shoe, "Greek Mouldings of Kos and Rhodes", Hesperia 19.4 (October - December 1950:338-369 and illustrations)
  3. ^ Motifs in Jihadi Internet Propaganda (PDF)

Further reading[edit]

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