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Architectural festoon from the Panthéon in Paris
Greco-Roman mosaic, c. 150 BC, Pergamon

A festoon (from French feston, Italian festone, from a Late Latin festo, originally a festal garland, Latin festum, feast) is a wreath or garland hanging from two points, and in architecture typically a carved ornament depicting conventional arrangement of flowers, foliage or fruit bound together and suspended by ribbons. The motif is sometimes known as a swag when depicting fabric or linen.[1][2]

In modern English the verb forms, especially "festooned with", are often used very loosely or figuratively to mean having any type of fancy decoration or covering.

Origins and design

Its origin is probably due to the representation in stone of the garlands of natural flowers, etc., which were hung up over an entrance doorway on fête days, or suspended around an altar.[2]

The design was largely employed both by the Ancient Greeks and Romans and formed the principal decoration of altars, friezes and panels.[2] The ends of the ribbons are sometimes formed into bows or twisted curves; when in addition a group of foliage or flowers is suspended, it is called a drop or margent.

The motif was later used in neo-classical architecture and decorative arts, especially ceramics and the work of silversmiths. Variations on the exact design are plentiful; for example, the ribbons can be suspended either from a decorated knot, or held in the mouths of lions, or suspended across the tops of bucrania as in the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli.


Festoon on a Roman sarcophagus 
Festoons on a classicist façade 
Festoon on a classicist façade 
Festoon at the church of Santa Maria presso San Celso, Milan. 

Other uses

In modern usage, the term can refer to a specific style of electric lighting with individual bulbs suspended along a string that incorporates the power wiring, suspended between two or more points.[3] The term can also refer to a style of light bulb with power contacts located at either end.[4]


  1. ^ Fleming, John; Honour, Hugh; Pevsner, Nikolaus (1986) [1966]. Dictionary of Architecture (3 ed.). Penguin Books Ltd. p. 114. ISBN 0-14-051013-3. 
  2. ^ a b c Sturgis, pp. 22-23
  3. ^ Miller, Charles R. Illustrated Guide to the NEC. p. 19. ISBN 978-1435498136. 
  4. ^ CDX Automotive (28 March 2013). South African Automotive Light Vehicle Level 2. Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 559. ISBN 978-1-4496-9782-2. 

Further reading

  • Lewis, Philippa; G. Darley (1986). Dictionary of Ornament. New York: Pantheon. ISBN 0-394-50931-5. 
  • Sturgis, Russell (1901). A Dictionary of Architecture and Building, Volume II. New York: Macmillan. 
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Festoon". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

External links

  • The dictionary definition of festoon at Wiktionary
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