caryatid (kărˌēătˈĭd, kărˈēətĭdˌ) [key], a sculptured female figure serving as an ornamental support in place of a column or pilaster. It was a frequently used motif in architecture, furniture, and garden sculpture during the Renaissance, the 18th cent., and notably, the classic revival of the 19th cent., when caryatids were popular as mantelpiece supports. The motif appeared in Egyptian and Greek architecture; the most celebrated example extant is the Porch of the Caryatids, forming part of the Erechtheum. Here six beautifully sculptured figures, acting as columns, support an entablature on their heads; the original figures are now in the Acropolis Museum. Caryatids were used also in two small treasuries (6th cent. B.C.) at Delphi. Male supporting figures are called atlantes.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.