The Language of Decoration

by Erika Grimes
[student, Rome Sketchbook course, spring 2011]

Even the smallest element in classical architecture has a meaning. A message is being portrayed across the facades of these monuments. For example, the egg and the dart appear in almost every building, temple and church in Rome.

"The tide, eternal tune
The phases of the moon
the chambers of the heart
the egg and dart..."
'Waiting in the Weeds', by The Eagles

The Arch of Constantine
A possible meaning of the decorations is eternal repetition of life and death shown through the symbolism of the egg representing birth and the dart representing death. We can imagine this decorative motif encircling a building in an endless cycle of life and death. Alongside the egg and dart motif there is also a rose. Equally significant, the appearance of the rose may be connected to the ancient Roman use of the term "Sub Rosa" meaning 'below the rose'.
Santa Maria Maggiore
A rose was placed above the door where secret matters were discussed as a warning to divulge nothing that was said there. From this we can hypothesize that a sculpted rose can act as a protector of any secrets uttered below it. So we could look at this decoration as pointing to the sacredness of language (the rose), encircled by life and death (the egg and dart).