The Arabesque used as a term in European art, including Byzantine art, is, on one definition, a decorative motif comprising a flowing and voluted formalistic acanthus composition. It is generally simpler than the Arabesque in Islamic art, and does not involve elements that cross over each other.
The basic form of the arabesque is as illustrated above. The core element is a heart shape formed from 2 confronted volutes on stems, shown highlighted in green in the illustration. To this core are added any number of further volutes, above, below or to the sides. It is thus a motif which can be infinitely expanded to cover a surface of any size, and indeed this function of decorating plain surfaces, as a form of diaper, is its chief use. From the illustration it is clear that the form present on the Ara Pacis (drawing E) erected in Imperial Rome during the time of Augustus, that is to say during the 1st quarter of the 1st century AD, is unchanged in substance when compared with the form in the apse mosaic of San Clemente in Rome dated c. 1200 (drawing C). The basic form appears unaltered during the intervening centuries, and indeed continued in use through the Renaissance and continues in use in the present day.
The heart-shaped core element is on occasion omitted, the arabesque taking the form of an “S” with voluted ends, generally seen in confronted pairs, as in the mosaics of the Treasury of the Great Mosque of Damascus, Byzantine work of the 7th century.
”U” shaped arabesque
This form is also encountered at the Treasury in Damascus, having a pair of volutes turned inwards towards the bowl. The form is generally used alone and does not sprout further volutes as generally does the core heart-shaped form.