Greek orders

I like greek columns: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian.

Drawings of the Greek orders

Doric, Ionic and Corinthian

The classical greek orders are a very strong part of classical architecture.

I admit I am a classicist and so I decided to spend a few minutes making sure I knew about the Greek orders, typically associated with neoclassical designs for country houses and city buildings dating from the Georgian period.

Before classical architecture became popular in the 18th century, romantic, occasionally grotesque Baroque architecture was popular, as can be seen at Chatsworth and Castle Howard.

However, Inigo Jones and then Lord Burlington popularised the stricter, rational Palladian design: in Italy in the 16th century Andrea Palladio had recaputured classical design from ancient Rome and his ideas (recorded in I Quattro Libri dell’Architectura) were then brought to England by Inigo Jones in the mid-late 17th century, before Lord Burlington and his followers kicked off the 18th century by reviving classical architecture on a grand scale.

Thus, to begin with the main influence was Italian/Roman architecture.

Arguably a natural progression, during the 18th century and following archeological discoveries such as Pompeii in 1749, academic thought turned from Roman to Greek architecture and, as knowledge of this subject deepened, Robert Adam et al took more influence from ancient Greece.

Greek classical architecture is the true classical architecture: the original; the inspiration for ancient Rome.

James Stuart and Nicholas Revett’s 1762 ‘The Antiquities of Athens’ (based on their visit to Athens a decade earlier) and Julien-David Le Roy’s sketches of the Acropolis formed the basis of a deeper understanding of Greek architecture, which had previously remained inaccessible to English, French and Italians as much of the architecture lay within the Ottoman Empire.

Ancient Greece at The British Museum

Any visitor of country houses (and many town houses too) will encounter columns so it can be nice to know what to look for…

Greek doric order

The most squat of the all columns of the three orders, 20-sided (oft but by no means always fluted), topped with a circle then a square and with no base.

Simple = doric = elegant, embodied in the Parthenon in Athens.

Ionic order

The columns of the Ionic order are taller than their doric siblings, slim (which is emphasised by the height), generally fluted, with a stacked (oft circular) base.  Their scrolled capital and the dentilated cornice set them apart.

To deal with perspective an entasis (bulge at the bottom of the column) ensures the column appears straight as the eye looks skyward.

Corinthian order

This capital originated from 5th century BC Athens and builds upon the Ionic column with two rows of acanthus leaves, often embellished with dentil cornicing and a fluted column, and uses the entasisBy comparison to Rome, the Corinthian order was much rarer in (surviving) Greek buildings.

Architecture in Italy was of course based on Greek designs but also developed, which means it may not be unusual to also see the Composite order (combining both Corinthian and ionic design and seen in some of Palladio’s designs) or the simpler Tuscan order, which is, for example, used inside at Chatsworth House.

Happy order spotting!

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