Atlas (architecture)

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Detail of an atlas in St. George, Hamburg Lrdetail.jpg
Detail of an atlas in St. George, Hamburg
Atlantes of the Casa degli Omenoni, Milan IMG 4404 - Milano - Casa degli Omenoni - Barbari-telamoni - Foto Giovanni Dall'Orto 20-jan 2007.jpg
Atlantes of the Casa degli Omenoni, Milan
Atlantes depicting the Moors defeated by Charles V, Porta Nuova, Palermo La Porta Nuova (Palerme) (6881310634).jpg
Atlantes depicting the Moors defeated by Charles V, Porta Nuova, Palermo

In European architectural sculpture, an atlas (also known as an atlant, or atlante [1] or atlantid; plural atlantes) [2] is a support sculpted in the form of a man, which may take the place of a column, a pier or a pilaster. The Roman term for such a sculptural support is a telamon (plural telamones or telamons). [2]


The term atlantes is the Greek plural of the name Atlas—the Titan who was forced to hold the sky on his shoulders for eternity. The alternative term, telamones, also is derived from a later mythological hero, Telamon, one of the Argonauts, who was the father of Ajax.

The caryatid is the female precursor of this architectural form in Greece, a woman standing in the place of each column or pillar. Caryatids are found at the treasuries at Delphi and the Erechtheion on the Acropolis at Athens for Athene. They usually are in an Ionic context and represented a ritual association with the goddesses worshiped within. [3] The Atlante is typically life-size or larger; smaller similar figures in the decorative arts are called terms. The body of many Atlantes turns into a rectangular pillar or other architectural feature around the waist level, a feature borrowed from the term. The pose and expression of Atlantes very often show their effort to bear the heavy load of the building, which is rarely the case with terms and caryatids. The herma or herm is a classical boundary marker or wayside monument to a god which is usually a square pillar with only a carved head on top, about life-size, and male genitals at the appropriate mid-point. Figures that are rightly called Atlantes may sometimes be described as herms.

Atlantes express extreme effort in their function, heads bent forward to support the weight of the structure above them across their shoulders, forearms often lifted to provide additional support, providing an architectural motif. Atlantes and caryatids were noted by the Roman late Republican architect Vitruvius, whose description of the structures, [4] rather than surviving examples, transmitted the idea of atlantes to the Renaissance architectural vocabulary.


Not only did the Caryatids precede them, but similar architectural figures already had been made in ancient Egypt out of monoliths. Atlantes originated in Greek Sicily and in Magna Graecia, southern Italy. The earliest surviving atlantes are fallen ones from the Early Classical Greek temple of Zeus, the Olympeion, in Agrigento, Sicily. [5] Atlantes, however, have played a more significant role in Mannerist and Baroque architecture.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many buildings were built with glorious atlantes that look much like the Greek ones. Their selection from the two proposed designsthe other design using Caryatidsfor the entrance of the Hermitage Museum that was built for Tsar Nicholas I of Russia made atlantes become even more fashionable. The portico of this building has ten enormous atlantes, approximately three times life-size, carved from Serdobol granite, which were designed by Johann Halbig and executed by the sculptor Alexander Terebenev.


Similar carved stone columns or pillars in the shape of fierce men at some sites of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica are typically called Atlantean figures. These figures are considered to be "massive statues of Toltec warriors". [6]


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Column Structural element that transmits weight from above to below

A column or pillar in architecture and structural engineering is a structural element that transmits, through compression, the weight of the structure above to other structural elements below. In other words, a column is a compression member. The term column applies especially to a large round support with a capital and a base or pedestal, which is made of stone, or appearing to be so. A small wooden or metal support is typically called a post, and supports with a rectangular or other non-round section are usually called piers.

Classical order Styles of classical architecture, most readily recognizable by the type of column employed

An order in architecture is a certain assemblage of parts subject to uniform established proportions, regulated by the office that each part has to perform. Coming down to the present from Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman civilization, the architectural orders are the styles of classical architecture, each distinguished by its proportions and characteristic profiles and details, and most readily recognizable by the type of column employed. The three orders of architecture—the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian—originated in Greece. To these the Romans added, in practice if not in name, the Tuscan, which they made simpler than Doric, and the Composite, which was more ornamental than the Corinthian. The architectural order of a classical building is akin to the mode or key of classical music; the grammar or rhetoric of a written composition. It is established by certain modules like the intervals of music, and it raises certain expectations in an audience attuned to its language.

Corinthian order Latest of the three principal classical orders of ancient Greek and Roman architecture

The Corinthian order is the last developed of the three principal classical orders of ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The other two are the Doric order which was the earliest, followed by the Ionic order. When classical architecture was revived during the Renaissance, two more orders were added to the canon: the Tuscan order and the Composite order. The Corinthian, with its offshoot the Composite, is the most ornate of the orders. This architectural style is characterized by slender fluted columns and elaborate capitals decorated with acanthus leaves and scrolls. There are many variations.

Ancient Greek architecture Era of architecture

Ancient Greek architecture came from the Greek-speaking people whose culture flourished on the Greek mainland, the Peloponnese, the Aegean Islands, and in colonies in Anatolia and Italy for a period from about 900 BC until the 1st century AD, with the earliest remaining architectural works dating from around 600 BC.

Doric order Order of ancient Greek and Roman architecture

The Doric order was one of the three orders of ancient Greek and later Roman architecture; the other two canonical orders were the Ionic and the Corinthian. The Doric is most easily recognized by the simple circular capitals at the top of columns. Originating in the western Doric region of Greece, it is the earliest and, in its essence, the simplest of the orders, though still with complex details in the entablature above.


In Greek mythology, Telamon was the son of King Aeacus of Aegina, and Endeïs, a mountain nymph. The elder brother of Peleus, Telamon sailed alongside Jason as one of his Argonauts, and was present at the hunt for the Calydonian Boar. In the Iliad, he was the father of Greek heroes Ajax the Great and Teucer by different mothers. Some accounts mention a third son of his, Trambelus. He and Peleus were also close friends of Heracles, assisting him on his expeditions against the Amazons and his assault on Troy.

Herm (sculpture) Sculpture with a head and often a torso above a plain lower section, often with male genitals at the appropriate height; originated in Ancient Greece, adopted by the Romans, and revived in the Renaissance

A herma, commonly herm in English, is a sculpture with a head and perhaps a torso above a plain, usually squared lower section, on which male genitals may also be carved at the appropriate height. Hermae were so called either because the head of Hermes was most common or from their etymological connection with the Greek word ἕρματα, which originally had no reference to Hermes at all. The form originated in ancient Greece, and was adopted by the Romans, and revived at the Renaissance in the form of term figures and atlantes.

Capital (architecture)

In architecture the capital or chapiter forms the topmost member of a column. It mediates between the column and the load thrusting down upon it, broadening the area of the column's supporting surface. The capital, projecting on each side as it rises to support the abacus, joins the usually square abacus and the usually circular shaft of the column. The capital may be convex, as in the Doric order; concave, as in the inverted bell of the Corinthian order; or scrolling out, as in the Ionic order. These form the three principal types on which all capitals in the classical tradition are based. The Composite order established in the 16th century on a hint from the Arch of Titus, adds Ionic volutes to Corinthian acanthus leaves.


A caryatid is a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head. The Greek term karyatides literally means "maidens of Karyai", an ancient town on the Peloponnese. Karyai had a temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis in her aspect of Artemis Karyatis: "As Karyatis she rejoiced in the dances of the nut-tree village of Karyai, those Karyatides, who in their ecstatic round-dance carried on their heads baskets of live reeds, as if they were dancing plants".

Term (architecture)

In Classical architecture a term or terminal figure is a human head and bust that continues as a square tapering pillar-like form.


A pseudoperipteros is a building with engaged columns embedded in the outer walls, except the front of the building. The form is found in classical architecture in ancient Greek temples, especially in the Hellenistic period. In Roman temples, the pseudoperipteral form became usual, where there were columns behind the portico as well. Typically the front has a portico with free-standing columns, but columns on the other three sides of the walls are engaged.

Dentil A small block used as a repeating ornament in the bedmould of a cornice

A dentil is a small block used as a repeating ornament in the bedmould of a cornice. Dentils are found in ancient Greek and Roman architecture, and also in later styles such as Neoclassical, Federal, Georgian Revival, Greek Revival, Renaissance Revival, Second Empire, and Beaux-Arts architecture.

Triglyph Vertically channeled tablets of the Doric frieze in classical architecture

Triglyph is an architectural term for the vertically channeled tablets of the Doric frieze in classical architecture, so called because of the angular channels in them. The rectangular recessed spaces between the triglyphs on a Doric frieze are called metopes. The raised spaces between the channels themselves are called femur in Latin or meros in Greek. In the strict tradition of classical architecture, a set of guttae, the six triangular "pegs" below, always go with a triglyph above, and the pair of features are only found in entablatures of buildings using the Doric order. The absence of the pair effectively converts a building from being in the Doric order to being in the Tuscan order.

This page is a glossary of architecture.


Sanssouci is a historical building in Potsdam, near Berlin. Built by Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, as his summer palace, it is often counted among the German rivals of Versailles. While Sanssouci is in the more intimate Rococo style and is far smaller than its French Baroque counterpart, it too is notable for the numerous temples and follies in the park. The palace was designed/built by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff between 1745 and 1747 to fulfill King Frederick's need for a private residence where he could relax away from the pomp and ceremony of the Berlin court. The palace's name emphasises this; it is a French phrase, which translates as "without concerns", meaning "without worries" or "carefree", symbolising that the palace was a place for relaxation rather than a seat of power. The name in past times reflected a play on words, with the insertion of a comma visible between the words Sans and Souci, viz. Sans, Souci. Kittsteiner theorizes that this could be a philosophical play on words, meaning "without a worry/concern" or it could be some secret personal message which nobody has interpreted, left to posterity by Frederick II.

Temple of Olympian Zeus, Agrigento

The Temple of Olympian Zeus in Agrigento, Sicily was the largest Doric temple ever constructed, although it was never completed and now lies in ruins. It stands in the Valle dei Templi with a number of other major Greek temples.

Pan Painter

The Pan Painter was an ancient Greek vase-painter of the Attic red-figure style, probably active c. 480 to 450 BCE. John Beazley attributed over 150 vases to his hand in 1912:

"Cunning composition; rapid motion; quick deft draughtsmanship; strong and peculiar stylisation; a deliberate archaism, retaining old forms, but refining, refreshing, and galvanizing them; nothing noble or majestic, but grace, humour, vivacity, originality, and dramatic force: these are the qualities which mark the Boston krater, and which characterize the anonymous artist who, for the sake of convenience, may be called the 'master of the Boston Pan-vase', or, more briefly, 'the Pan-master'."

The architecture of Rome over the centuries has greatly developed from Ancient Roman architecture to Italian modern and contemporary architecture. Rome was once the world's main epicentres of Classical architecture, developing new forms such as the arch, the dome and the vault. The Romanesque style in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries was also widely used in Roman architecture, and later the city became one of the main centres of Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Rome's cityscape is also widely Neoclassical and Fascist in style.

Temple of Concordia, Agrigento

The Temple of Concordia is an ancient Greek temple in the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento on the south coast of Sicily, Italy. It is the largest and best-preserved Doric temple in Sicily and one of the best-preserved Greek temples in general, especially of the Doric order.


  1. Hersey, George, The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1998 p. 129
  2. 1 2 Aru-Az' Archived 2008-07-04 at the Wayback Machine , Michael Delahunt, ArtLex Art Dictionary Archived 2005-04-24 at the Wayback Machine , 1996–2008.
  3. Harris, Cyril M., ed., Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture, Dover Publications, New York, 1983.
  4. Vitruvius, De Architectura, 6.7.6.
  5. Dorothy King, "Doric Figured Supports: Vitruvius’ Caryatids and Atlantes: 5.2 Atlantes and Telamones"
  6. Evans, Susan (2008). Ancient Mexico and Central America: Archaeology and Culture History. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd. p. 42.