The classical orders The Classical Orders (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian) A conversation with Dr. Steven Zucker & Dr. Beth Harris
The classical orders
- Architecture's language, and you know when you learn a new vocabulary word,
- you start to notice it for the first time everywhere?
- Well, the same thing happens with architecture.
- When you learn a new architectural form, you start to see it everywhere.
- And it's especially true of the classical orders, because these are, what are essentially the building blocks
- of western architecture, and they've been used for 2500 years.
- We're basically talking about styles of architecture that that the ancient Greeks have developed mostly for their temples.
- And you're right, that we've continued to use.
- And we've got several contemporary examples up along the top.
- But what's important to remember is that it's just a fancy dressing, really, of a basic, ancient building system.
- So we've brought in Stonehenge to illustrate that ancient building system called Post and Lintel architecture.
- This is the most fundamental, most basic, oldest kind of architectural system.
- The posts are the vertical elements, and they support horizontal elements called a lintel.
- And you know what? We still use this basic system when we nail two by fours [2x4s] together.
- And that's what the Greeks were doing, but they were doing it in a much more sophisticated way.
- Right, they developed decorative systems, and that's what we're referring to when we use the term "Classical Orders".
- There are three basic orders: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian.
- There's a couple extra, but we're not going to go into those today, but we've listed them here for you,
- just so you know what they are, at the Tuscan and the Composite.
- So the Doric and Ionic and Corinthian are illustrated here in this diagram.
- First the Doric, then the Ionic, and then the last two are Corinthian.
- These are just slight variations of these three orders.
- And the Doric is really the most simple, the Ionic a little bit more complicated, and then the Corinthian completely out of control.
- So let's start with the oldest order, the Doric order.
- Right, we think that this order began in the 7th century, on the mainland in Greece.
- And we're looking at an actual Greek temple, that happens to be in Italy,
- but nevertheless is just a great example of the Doric in the Classical Era.
- Let's start at the top, with the pediment.
- The pediment isn't officially part of the order, but since Greek temples had it in one end or the other,
- a pediment, we just thought we would name that for you, and that's that triangular space at the very top of the temple
- Right, these are gabled roofs. Sometimes they would be filled with sculpture.
- The next area below the pediment is, actually, officially part of the order,
- and that's called the entablature.
- Okay, so that would be the area from about here to here.
- And the top part of the entablature is called a frieze.
- Okay, so only this part right here is known as the frieze, so this whole section.
- Right, and in the Doric order it is decorated in a very specific way, using triglyphs and metopes.
- Now, actually, if you look at the word "Triglyph", you notice that the prefix is "tri",
- just like "tricycle", it means "three", and the suffix, "glyph", means mark,
- so a "triglyph" literally means "three marks".
- And you can see patterns of three marks moving all the way across the frieze.
- And then in-between the triglyphs are spaces that are called metopes.
- And in ancient Greek architecture these were often filled with sculpture.
- Now, the triglyphs, we don't think they're just arbitrary.
- We think that they probably came from a time when temples were built out of wood,
- and these would have been the ends of planks, that would have functioned as beams in the temple.
- And they would have, of course, been supported directly over the columns.
- You'll notice that every other one, at least, is aligned directly over the columns.
- So if we move down the temple, the next area we come to is the capital.
- And this is a Doric capital. It's very simple.
- It's got a flare, and the it's got a simple slab on top.
- So the Doric is the oldest, most severe, and was associated,
- according to the ancient Roman architectural historian, Vitruvius, with masculine form.
- It is broad, it's not tall, and it feels heavy.
- It does.
- As we continue to move down, we come to the area that we commonly call the column, but art historians call the shaft.
- And if you look closely, you can see that it's not entirely plain, there are actually vertical lines
- that move across the entire surface, known as flutes.
- Now in the Doric a flute is very shallow, and really, what it is is a kind of scallop
- that's been carved out of the surface.
- And what fluting does, is it creates a nice vertical decorative pattern along the shaft.
- Now one of the other defining features of the Doric order is that at the bottom of the shaft there is no decorative foot.
- The shaft of the column goes straight into the floor of the temple.
- And you can see that really well in the detail on the lower right, where there's no molding there to make a transition.
- So let's have a look at what these look like in person.
- Capitals are up high, so we would never see a person next to them,
- but I think it's easy to not realise just how big they are.
- But I snapped this terrific picture of you at the British Museum next to a capital,
- that actually comes from the most famous Doric temple, on the Acropolis of Athens.
- Right, the Parthenon. And they really are massive.
- And this photo is good also for seeing, in this case a reconstruction, but giving you a sense of the entablature,
- with that frieze, with triglyphs and metopes.
- And we've got an example, on the right, of a relief sculpture that was for one of the metopes of the Parthenon.
- Right, so this metope here would have actually fit right in one of these squares.
- Let's talk about one last element that we find in Doric architecture, and that's something called entasis.
- Now, this is a little tricky, because I think most people assume that a column is straight up and down,
- that is, the sides of a column are parallel with each other,
- and the base of the column is just as wide as the area directly below the capital.
- But in fact the ancient Greeks didn't build their temples that way.
- No, it's fascinating to think about all the ways that the ancient are thinking
- about how to make their buildings beautiful and speak of the realm of the gods.
- And so when we look at an ancient Doric temple, we see that the shafts swell a little bit toward the centre.
- So right about a third of the way down they would be at their widest,
- and it would taper ever so slightly towards the bottom, and taper much more so as we move up to the top.
- So that the narrowest point of the column shaft would be right at the top,
- and the widest part would be about a third of the way from the base.
- And so the building has a sense of liveliness, that I think it wouldn't have if the column was
- exactly the same width at the top as at the bottom.
- Architectural historians have debated why the Greeks bothered to do this,
- because this was expensive, this was difficult, it meant that every drum that makes up this column,
- had to be an individual, unique piece.
- These could not be mass measured and mass produced.
- Right, so you just used a drum.
- So the columns are not actually carved from one piece of stone.
- And if you look very carefully at this photograph, you can just make out the scenes between those drums.
- There would also have generally been a hole that would have gone through the centre of each of these pieces,
- so that a piece of wood sometimes would actually string them together almost like beads on a necklace.
- One of the other things that entasis does is to emphasise the verticality of the temple,
- because they get narrower as they go further up.
- It seems as if the shaft of the column might actually be taller than it really is,
- because, of course, as things move away from us they get smaller in scale.
- So the Greeks are thinking about human perception.
- They're thinking about how we see, not just an abstract idea of math and geometry, but actually human experience,
- which says something about ancient Greek culture.
- One last detail. The entasis gives the shaft of the column a sense of almost elasticity,
- that it is burying the weight of the stone above it.
- It's really fascinating to think about all of these decisions that the Greeks are making as they build.
- So let's look at the Ionic order, which emerges shortly after the Doric order.
- Here's another building on the Acropolis. This is the Erechtheion.
- This is such a different aesthetic. There's such a sense of delicacy here.
- There is not that sense of mass, that sense of the muscularity of the buildings that we associate with the Doric.
- And in fact Vitruvius, the ancient Roman architectural historian, saw this as a more feminine order.
- It's taller, it's thinner...
- Now one of the columns from this building in Greece is in the Museum in Lonodon. We have some good photographs of it
- And you can see the distinguishing really is at the top, at the capital,
- where we see these scroll-like shapes, also known as volutes.
- We also see a slightly different type of fluting,
- and we also, importantly, see a base.
- Let's move to the Corinthian order.
- This looks really different, and is the most decorative,
- and the distinguishing feature here is, again, the capital, where we see leaf-like shapes.
- They also have bases, they tent to be taller than the Doric, just like the Ionic, but they are highly decorative.
- There's a great myth about the origin of the Corinthian capital.
- It's a kind of fun story, of course we have no idea whether this is true,
- but the story is that there was a young girl who died, and her possessions were placed in a basket
- and put on top of her grave.
- Underneath that basket was an acanthus plant that began to grow,
- and because the heavy basket with the tile on top was on top, the acanthus leaves grew out to the side.
- Well, if we look at the Corinthian column, it really does look like that.
- It looks exactly like that.
- And so it's a great myth, whether or not it's true.
- So the Corinthian order is the most complex.
- It includes both the scroll, that we would expect to see in the Ionic...
- The volutes.
- Right. But also these very complex leaf-like forms, which you can just make out here,
- which is actually from the acanthus leaf.
- And we have a photograph of an acanthus leaf right down here.
- And these grow wild, so it makes sense.
- What's important to remember, is that the ancient Greeks, although they developed these three classical orders,
- were just the genesis, the Romans took these ideas over, and then subsequently,
- people who've looked back to the classical tradition have borrowed from them yet again.
- And we still do this today. And there you have it, the Greek orders.
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