Capital (architecture)

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An Ionic order capital from the Acropolis (Athens) Erechtheum03.jpg
An Ionic order capital from the Acropolis (Athens)

In architecture the capital (from the Latin caput, or "head") or chapiter forms the topmost member of a column (or a pilaster). 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 (illustration, right), established in the 16th century on a hint from the Arch of Titus, adds Ionic volutes to Corinthian acanthus leaves.

Architecture The product and the process of planning, designing and constructing buildings and other structures.

Architecture is both the process and the product of planning, designing, and constructing buildings or any other structures. Architectural works, in the material form of buildings, are often perceived as cultural symbols and as works of art. Historical civilizations are often identified with their surviving architectural achievements.

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

Column structural element sustaining the weight of a building

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. For the purpose of wind or earthquake engineering, columns may be designed to resist lateral forces. Other compression members are often termed "columns" because of the similar stress conditions. Columns are frequently used to support beams or arches on which the upper parts of walls or ceilings rest. In architecture, "column" refers to such a structural element that also has certain proportional and decorative features. A column might also be a decorative element not needed for structural purposes; many columns are "engaged", that is to say form part of a wall.


French Gothic capitals France-Aude-Abbaye de Villelongue-Details chapiteaux.jpg
French Gothic capitals
Fragment of a columns with Hathor capital; 380-362 BC; limestone; height: 102 cm (40 /16 in.) Column with Hathor-emblem capital and names of Nectanebo I on the shaft MET DP321621.jpg
Fragment of a columns with Hathor capital; 380-362 BC; limestone; height: 102 cm (4016 in.)

From the highly visible position it occupies in all colonnaded monumental buildings, the capital is often selected for ornamentation; and is often the clearest indicator of the architectural order. The treatment of its detail may be an indication of the building's date.

Colonnade covered sidewalk

In classical architecture, a colonnade is a long sequence of columns joined by their entablature, often free-standing, or part of a building. Paired or multiple pairs of columns are normally employed in a colonnade which can be straight or curved. The space enclosed may be covered or open. In St. Peter's Square in Rome, Bernini's great colonnade encloses a vast open elliptical space.



The two earliest Egyptian capitals of importance are those based on the lotus and papyrus plants respectively, and these, with the palm tree capital, were the chief types employed by the Egyptians, until under the Ptolemies in the 3rd to 1st centuries BC, various other river plants were also employed, and the conventional lotus capital went through various modifications.

Ancient Egypt ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa

Ancient Egypt was a civilization of ancient North Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in the place that is now the country Egypt. Ancient Egyptian civilization followed prehistoric Egypt and coalesced around 3100 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under Menes. The history of ancient Egypt occurred as a series of stable kingdoms, separated by periods of relative instability known as Intermediate Periods: the Old Kingdom of the Early Bronze Age, the Middle Kingdom of the Middle Bronze Age and the New Kingdom of the Late Bronze Age.

Papyrus Writing and painting implement

Papyrus is a material similar to thick paper that was used in ancient times as a writing surface. It was made from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge. Papyrus can also refer to a document written on sheets of such material, joined together side by side and rolled up into a scroll, an early form of a book.

The Ptolemaic dynasty, sometimes also known as the Lagids or Lagidae, was a Macedonian Greek royal family, which ruled the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt during the Hellenistic period. Their rule lasted for 275 years, from 305 to 30 BC. They were the last dynasty of ancient Egypt.

Many motifs of Egyptian ornamentation are symbolic, such as the scarab, or sacred beetle, the solar disk, and the vulture. Other common motifs include palm leaves, the papyrus plant, and the buds and flowers of the lotus. [1]

Symbol something that represents an idea, a process, or a physical entity

A symbol is a mark, sign or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an idea, object, or relationship. Symbols allow people to go beyond what is known or seen by creating linkages between otherwise very different concepts and experiences. All communication is achieved through the use of symbols. Symbols take the form of words, sounds, gestures, ideas or visual images and are used to convey other ideas and beliefs. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a blue line might represent a river. Numerals are symbols for numbers. Alphabetic letters may be symbols for sounds. Personal names are symbols representing individuals. A red rose may symbolize love and compassion. The variable 'x', in a mathematical equation, may symbolize the position of a particle in space.

Vulture common name for several types of scavenging birds of prey

A vulture is a scavenging bird of prey. The two types of vultures are the New World vultures, including the Californian and Andean condors, and the Old World vultures, including the birds that are seen scavenging on carcasses of dead animals on African plains. Some traditional Old World vultures are not closely related to the others, which is why the vultures are to be subdivided into three taxa rather than two. New World vultures are found in North and South America; Old World vultures are found in Europe, Africa, and Asia, meaning that between the two groups, vultures are found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.

<i>Nymphaea caerulea</i> species of plant

Nymphaea caerulea, known primarily as blue lotus, but also blue water lily, and sacred blue lily, is a water lily in the genus Nymphaea. Like other species in the genus, the plant contains the psychoactive alkaloid aporphine. It was known to the Ancient Egyptian civilization.

Some of the most popular types of capitals were the Hathor, lotus, papyrus and Egyptian composite. Most of the types are based on vegetal motifs. Capitals of some columns were painted in bright colors.

Hathor Egyptian goddess of love, joy, childbirth, heaven, music, and women.

Hathor was a major goddess in ancient Egyptian religion who played a wide variety of roles. As a sky deity, she was the mother or consort of the sky god Horus and the sun god Ra, both of whom were connected with kingship, and thus she was the symbolic mother of their earthly representatives, the pharaohs. She was one of several goddesses who acted as the Eye of Ra, Ra's feminine counterpart, and in this form she had a vengeful aspect that protected him from his enemies. Her beneficent side represented music, dance, joy, love, sexuality and maternal care, and she acted as the consort of several male deities and the mother of their sons. These two aspects of the goddess exemplified the Egyptian conception of femininity. Hathor crossed boundaries between worlds, helping deceased souls in the transition to the afterlife.

Isis goddess in ancient Egyptian religion

Isis was a major goddess in ancient Egyptian religion whose worship spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. Isis was first mentioned in the Old Kingdom as one of the main characters of the Osiris myth, in which she resurrects her slain husband, the divine king Osiris, and produces and protects his heir, Horus. She was believed to help the dead enter the afterlife as she had helped Osiris, and she was considered the divine mother of the pharaoh, who was likened to Horus. Her maternal aid was invoked in healing spells to benefit ordinary people. Originally, she played a limited role in royal rituals and temple rites, although she was more prominent in funerary practices and magical texts. She was usually portrayed in art as a human woman wearing a throne-like hieroglyph on her head. During the New Kingdom, as she took on traits that originally belonged to Hathor, the preeminent goddess of earlier times, Isis came to be portrayed wearing Hathor's headdress: a sun disk between the horns of a cow.

Philae Island in Nile, Egypt

Philae is an island in the reservoir of the Aswan Low Dam, downstream of the Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser, Egypt. Philae was originally located near the expansive First Cataract of the Nile in Upper Egypt and was the site of an Egyptian temple complex. These rapids and the surrounding area have been variously flooded since the initial construction of the Aswan Low Dam in 1902. The temple complex was dismantled and moved to nearby Agilkia Island as part of the UNESCO Nubia Campaign project, protecting this and other complexes before the 1970 completion of the Aswan High Dam. The hieroglyphic reliefs of the temple complex are being studied and published by the Philae Temple Text Project of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna.

Luxor Temple Ancient Egyptian temple

Luxor Temple is a large Ancient Egyptian temple complex located on the east bank of the Nile River in the city today known as Luxor and was constructed approximately 1400 BCE. In the Egyptian language it is known as ipet resyt, "the southern sanctuary". In Luxor there are several great temples on the east and west banks. Four of the major mortuary temples visited by early travelers and tourists include the Temple of Seti I at Gurnah, the Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahri, the Temple of Ramesses II, and the Temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu; the two primary cults temples on the east bank are known as the Karnak and Luxor. Unlike the other temples in Thebes, Luxor temple is not dedicated to a cult god or a deified version of the pharaoh in death. Instead Luxor temple is dedicated to the rejuvenation of kingship; it may have been where many of the pharaohs of Egypt were crowned in reality or conceptually

Top of an Achaemenid Persian column from Persepolis Perspolis.jpg
Top of an Achaemenid Persian column from Persepolis


Some kind of volute capital is shown in the Assyrian bas-reliefs, but no Assyrian capital has ever been found; the enriched bases exhibited in the British Museum were initially misinterpreted as capitals.


In the Achaemenid Persian capital the brackets are carved with two heavily decorated back-to-back animals projecting right and left to support the architrave; on their backs they carry other brackets at right angles to support the cross timbers. The bull is the most common, but there are also lions and griffins. The capital extends below for further than in most other styles, with decoration drawn from the many cultures that the Persian Empire conquered including Egypt, Babylon, and Lydia. There are double volutes at the top and, inverted, bottom of a long plain fluted section which is square, although the shaft of the column is round, and also fluted.


The earliest Aegean capital is that shown in the frescoes at Knossos in Crete (1600 BC); it was of the convex type, probably moulded in stucco. Capitals of the second, concave type, include the richly carved examples of the columns flanking the Tomb of Agamemnon in Mycenae (c. 1100 BC): they are carved with a chevron device, and with a concave apophyge on which the buds of some flowers are sculpted.

The Orders and other classical capitals

The orders, structural systems for organising component parts, played a crucial role in the Greeks' search for perfection of ratio and proportion.



Illustration of a Doric capital of the Parthenon, in a book named A Handbook of Architectural Styles, written in 1898 DoricParthenon.jpg
Illustration of a Doric capital of the Parthenon, in a book named A Handbook of Architectural Styles, written in 1898

The Doric capital is the simplest of the five Classical orders: it consists of the abacus above an ovolo molding, with an astragal collar set below. It was developed in the lands occupied by the Dorians, one of the two principal divisions of the Greek race. It became the preferred style of the Greek mainland and the western colonies (southern Italy and Sicily). In the Temple of Apollo, Syracuse (c. 700 BC), the echinus moulding has become a more definite form: this in the Parthenon reaches its culmination, where the convexity is at the top and bottom with a delicate uniting curve. The sloping side of the echinus becomes flatter in the later examples, and in the Colosseum at Rome forms a quarter round (see Doric order). In versions where the frieze and other elements are simpler the same form of capital is described as being in the Tuscan order. Doric reached its peak in the mid-5th century BC, and was one of the orders accepted by the Romans. Its characteristics are masculinity, strength and solidity.

The Doric capital consists of a cushion-like convex moulding known as an echinus, and a square slab termed an abacus.


Plate of the Ionic order, from Les Ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grece, made in 1770 by Julien-David Le Roy Ionic order J.L.Leroy.jpg
Plate of the Ionic order, from Les Ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grèce, made in 1770 by Julien-David Le Roy

In the Ionic capital, spirally coiled volutes are inserted between the abacus and the ovolo. This order appears to have been developed contemporaneously with the Doric, though it did not come into common usage and take its final shape until the mid-5th century BC. The style prevailed in Ionian lands, centred on the coast of Asia Minor and Aegean islands. The order's form was far less set than the Doric, with local variations persisting for many decades. In the Ionic capitals of the archaic Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (560 BC) the width of the abacus is twice that of its depth, consequently the earliest Ionic capital known was virtually a bracket capital. A century later, in the temple on the Ilissus, the abacus has become square (See the more complete discussion at Ionic order). According to the Roman architect Vitruvius, the Ionic order's main characteristics were beauty, femininity, and slenderness, derived from its basis on the proportion of a woman.

The volutes of an Ionic capital rest on an echinus, almost invariably carved with egg-and-dart. Above the scrolls was an abacus, more shallow than that in Doric examples, and again ornamented with egg-and-dart.


Fotothek df tg 0003916 Architektur ^ Saule ^ korinthische Ordnung ^ Kranz ^ Fries ^ Epistyl.jpg
Illustration of the Corinthian capital from 1640, in Deutsche Fotothek (Dresden, Germany)
Evolution of the Corinthian Capital 138.jpg
Evolution of the Corinthian capital, drawn by Sir Banister Flight Fletcher

It has been suggested that the foliage of the Greek Corinthian capital was based on the Acanthus spinosus, that of the Roman on the Acanthus mollis . Not all architectural foliage is as realistic as Isaac Ware's (illustration, right) however. The leaves are generally carved in two "ranks" or bands, like one leafy cup set within another. One of the most beautiful Corinthian capitals is that from the Tholos of Epidaurus (400 BC); it illustrates the transition between the earlier Greek capital, as at Bassae, and the Roman version that Renaissance and modern architects inherited and refined (See the more complete discussion at Corinthian order).

In Roman architectural practice, capitals are briefly treated in their proper context among the detailing proper to each of the "Orders", in the only complete architectural textbook to have survived from classical times, the Ten Books on Architecture , by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, better known just as Vitruvius, dedicated to the emperor Augustus. The various orders are discussed in Vitruvius' books iii and iv. Vitruvius describes Roman practice in a practical fashion. He gives some tales about the invention of each of the Orders, but he does not give a hard and fast set of canonical rules for the execution of capitals.

Two further, specifically Roman orders of architecture have their characteristic capitals, the sturdy and primitive Tuscan capitals, typically used in military buildings, similar to Greek Doric, but with fewer small moldings in its profile, and the invented Composite capitals not even mentioned by Vitruvius, which combined Ionic volutes and Corinthian acanthus capitals, in an order that was otherwise quite similar in proportions to the Corinthian, itself an order that Romans employed much more often than Greeks.

The increasing adoption of composite capitals signalled a trend towards freer, more inventive (and often more coarsely carved) capitals in Late Antiquity.


Sofa capital Erechteion.jpg
A Ionic anta capital from the 5th century BC, at the Erechtheion (Athens)
Greek Corinthian anta capital.jpg
Illustration of a Corinthian anta, from A handbook of ornament, published in 1896

The anta capital is not a capital which is set on top of column, but rather on top of an anta, a structural post integrated to the frontal end of a wall, such as the front of the side wall of a temple.

The top of an anta is often highly decorated, usually with bands of floral motifs. The designs often respond to an order of columns, but usually with a different set of design principles. [2] In order not to protrude excessively from the wall surface, these structures tend to have a rather flat surface, forming brick-shaped capitals, called "anta capitals". Anta capitals are known from the time of the Doric order. [3]

An anta capital can sometimes be qualified as a "sofa" capital or a "sofa anta capital" when the sides of the capital broaden upward, in a shape reminiscent of a couch or sofa. [4] [5]

Anta capitals are sometimes hard to distinguish from pilaster capitals, which are rather decorative, and do not have the same structural role as anta capitals.


Fotothek df tg 0001022 Architektur ^ Saule ^ dorische Ordnung ^ Brucke.jpg
Illustration of a Tuscan capital, made in 1697 by Charles Philippe Dieussart, kept in Deutsche Fotothek (Dresden, Germany)
Fotothek df tg 0003919 Architektur ^ Saule ^ Kompositordnung ^ Kranz ^ Fries ^ Epistyl.jpg
Illustration of the Composite capital, made in 1640 and kept in Deutsche Fotothek


The origins of the Tuscan order lie with the Etruscans and are found on their tombs. Although the Romans perceived it as especially Italianate, the Tuscan order found on Roman monuments is in fact closer to the Greek Doric order than to Etruscan examples, its capital being nearby identical with the Doric.


The Romans invented the Composite order by uniting the Corinthian order with the Ionic capital, possibly as early as Augustus's reign. In many versions the composite order volutes are larger, however, and there is generally some ornament placed centrally between the volutes. Despite this origin, very many Composite capitals in fact treat the two volutes as different elements, each springing from one side of their leafy base. In this, and in having a separate ornament between them, they resemble the Archaic Greek Aeolic order, though this seems not to have been the route of their development in early Imperial Rome. Equally, where the Greek Ionic volute is usually shown from the side as a single unit of unchanged width between the front and back of the column, the Composite volutes are normally treated as four different thinner units, one at each corner of the capital, projecting at some 45° to the facade.



Figure of Buddha, in the center of a Corinthian capital, made during the ancient Gandhara state, between the 1st to the 3rd century AD, found at Jamal Garhi Corinthian capital with the Buddha in the center.jpg
Figure of Buddha, in the center of a Corinthian capital, made during the ancient Gandhara state, between the 1st to the 3rd century AD, found at Jamal Garhi

Some capitals with strong Greek and Persian influence have been found in northeastern India in the Maurya Empire palace of Pataliputra, dating to the 4th–3rd century BC. Examples such as the Pataliputra capital belong to the Ionic order rather than the later Corinthian order. They are witness to relations between India and the West from that early time.

Indo-Corinthian capitals correspond to the much more abundant Corinthian-style capitals crowning columns or pilasters, which can be found in the northwestern Indian subcontinent, particularly in Gandhara, and usually combine Hellenistic and Indian elements. These capitals are typically dated to the first century BC, and constitute important elements of Greco-Buddhist art.

The Classical design was often adapted, usually taking a more elongated form, and sometimes being combined with scrolls, generally within the context of Buddhist stupas and temples. Indo-Corinthian capitals also incorporated figures of the Buddha or Bodhisattvas, usually as central figures surrounded by, and often under the shade of, the luxurious foliage of Corinthian designs.

The Pataliputra capital

Illustration of the Pataliputra capital Pataliputra capital illustration.jpg
Illustration of the Pataliputra capital

The Pataliputra capital is a monumental rectangular capital with volutes and Classical Greek designs, that was discovered in the palace ruins of the ancient Mauryan Empire capital city of Pataliputra (modern Patna, northeastern India). It is dated to the 3rd century BC. The top is made of a band of rosettes, eleven in total for the fronts and four for the sides. Below that is a band of bead and reel pattern, then under it a band of waves, generally right-to-left, except for the back where they are left-to-right. Further below is a band of egg-and-dart pattern, with eleven "tongues" or "eggs" on the front, and only seven on the back. Below appears the main motif, a flame palmette, growing among pebbles.

The Lion Capital of Ashoka

The Lion Capital of Ashoka; circa 3rd century BC; polished sandstone; height: 2.2 m; Sarnath Museum (Saranath, near Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India) Sarnath capital.jpg
The Lion Capital of Ashoka; circa 3rd century BC; polished sandstone; height: 2.2 m; Sarnath Museum (Saranath, near Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India)

The Lion Capital of Ashoka is an iconic capital which consists of four Asiatic lions standing back to back, on an elaborate base that includes other animals. A graphic representation of it was adopted as the official Emblem of India in 1950. [6] This powerfully carved lion capital from Sarnath stood a top a pillar bearing the edicts of the emperor Ashoka. Like most of Ashoka's capitals, it is brilliantly polished. Located at the site of Buddha's first sermon and the formation of the Buddhist order, it carried imperial and Buddhist symbols, reflecting the universal authority of both the emperor's and the Buddha's words. The capital today serves as the emblem of the Republic of India. Minus the inverted bell-shaped lotus flower, this has been adopted as the National Emblem of India, seen from another angle, showing the horse on the left and the bull on the right of the Ashoka Chakra in the circular base on which the four Indian lions are standing back to back. On the side shown here there are the bull and elephant; a lion occupies the other place. The wheel "Ashoka Chakra" from its base has been placed onto the centre of the National Flag of India

Post-classical European capitals

Byzantine capitals

Capital from Basilica of San Vitale (Ravenna, Italy) Ravenna San Vitale 202.jpg
Capital from Basilica of San Vitale (Ravenna, Italy)

Byzantine capitals are very varied, mostly developing from the classical Corinthian, but tending to have an even surface level, with the ornamention undercut with drills. The block of stone was left rough as it came from the quarry, and the sculptor evolved new designs to his own fancy, so that one rarely meets with many repetitions of the same design. One of the most remarkable designs features leaves carved as if blown by the wind; the finest example being at the 8th-century Hagia Sophia (Thessaloniki). Those in the Cathedral of Saint Mark, Venice  (1071) specially attracted John Ruskin's fancy. Others appear in Sant'Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna  (549).

The capital in San Vitale, Ravenna  (547) shows above it the dosseret required to carry the arch, the springing of which was much wider than the abacus of the capital. On eastern capitals the eagle, the lion and the lamb are occasionally carved, but treated conventionally.

There are two types of capitals used at Hagia Sophia: composite and ionic. The composite capital that emerged during the Late Byzantine Empire, mainly in Rome, combines the Corinthian with the Ionic. Composite capitals line the principal space of the nave. Ionic capitals are used behind them in the side spaces, in a mirror position relative to the Corinthian or composite orders (as was their fate well into the 19th century, when buildings were designed for the first time with a monumental Ionic order). At Hagia Sophia, though, these are not the standard imperial statements. The capitals are filled with foliage in all sorts of variations. In some, the small, lush leaves appear to be caught up in the spinning of the scrolls – clearly, a different, nonclassical sensibility has taken over the design.

The capitals at Basilica of Saint Vitale in Ravenna (Italy) show wavy and delicate floral patterns similar to decorations found on belt buckles and dagger blades. Their inverted pyramidal form has the look of a basket.

Romanesque and Gothic capitals

Foliage on Gothic capitals at Southwell Minster Southwell minster 028.JPG
Foliage on Gothic capitals at Southwell Minster

In both periods small columns are often used close together in groups, often around a pier that is in effect a single larger column, or running along a wall surface. The structural importance of the individual column is thereby greatly reduced. In both periods, though there are common types, the sense of a strict order with rules was not maintained, and when the budget allowed, carvers were able to indulge their inventiveness. Capitals were sometimes used to hold depictions of figures and narrative scenes, especially in the Romanesque.

In Romanesque architecture and Gothic architecture capitals throughout western Europe present as much variety as in the East, and for the same reason, that the sculptor evolved his design in accordance with the block he was carving, but in the west variety goes further, because of the clustering of columns and piers.

The earliest type of capital in Lombardy and Germany is known as the cushion-cap, in which the lower portion of the cube block has been cut away to meet the circular shaft. These types were generally painted at first with geometrical designs, afterwards carved.

The finest carving comes from France, especially from the area around Paris. The most varied were carved in 1130–1170. [7]

In Britain and France the figures introduced into the capitals are sometimes full of character. These capitals, however, are not equal to those of the Early English Gothic, in which foliage is treated as if copied from metalwork, and is of infinite variety, being found in small village churches as well as in cathedrals.

Renaissance and post-Renaissance capitals

Romanesque capital, Cuxa Cloister, The Cloisters, New York. Cuxa Cloister NYC.jpg
Romanesque capital, Cuxa Cloister, The Cloisters, New York.

In the Renaissance period the feature became of the greatest importance and its variety almost as great as in the Romanesque and Gothic styles. The flat pilaster, which was employed extensively in this period, called for a planar rendition of the capital, executed in high relief. This affected the designs of capitals. A traditional 15th-century variant of the Composite capital turns the volutes inwards above stiffened leaf carving. In new Renaissance combinations in capital designs most of the ornament can be traced to Classical Roman sources.

The 'Renaissance' was as much a reinterpretation as a revival of Classical norms. For example, the volutes of ancient Greek and Roman Ionic capitals had lain in the same plane as the architrave above them. This had created an awkward transition at the corner – where, for example, the designer of the temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis in Athens had brought the outside volute of the end capitals forward at a 45-degree angle. This problem was more satisfactorily solved by the 16th-century architect Sebastiano Serlio, who angled outwards all volutes of his Ionic capitals. Since then use of antique Ionic capitals, instead of Serlio's version, has lent an archaic air to the entire context, as in Greek Revival.

The foliate mask or "Green Man" was a popular motif for capitals in churches across northern Europe. Green Man carving.jpg
The foliate mask or "Green Man" was a popular motif for capitals in churches across northern Europe.

There are numerous newly-invented orders, sometimes called nonce orders, where a different ornamentation of the capital is typically a key feature. Within the bounds of decorum, a certain amount of inventive play has always been acceptable within the classical tradition. These became increasingly common after the Renaissance. When Benjamin Latrobe redesigned the Senate Vestibule in the United States Capitol in 1807, he introduced six columns that he "Americanized" with ears of corn (maize) substituting for the European acanthus leaves. As Latrobe reported to Thomas Jefferson in August 1809,

"These capitals during the summer session obtained me more applause from members of Congress than all the works of magnitude or difficulty that surround them. They christened them the 'corncob capitals'."

Another example is the Delhi Order invented by the British architect Edwin Lutyens for New Delhi's central palace, Viceroy's House, now the Presidential residence Rashtrapati Bhavan, using elements of Indian architecture, [8] Here the capital had a band of vertical ridges, with bells hanging at each corner as a replacement for volutes. [9] The Delhi Order reappears in some later Lutyens buildings including Campion Hall, Oxford. [10]

See also

Related Research Articles

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

The architecture of ancient Greece is the architecture produced by 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, with no base to the column, simple capital, and triglyphs on the frieze

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 Dorian 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.

Ionic order Order of classical architecture characterized by the use of volutes in the capital and a base moulding on the columns

The Ionic order forms one of the three classical orders of classical architecture, the other two canonic orders being the Doric and the Corinthian. There are two lesser orders: the Tuscan, and the rich variant of Corinthian called the composite order, both added by 16th-century Italian architectural writers, based on Roman practice. Of the three canonic orders, the Ionic order has the narrowest columns.

Volute Spiral scroll-like ornament that forms the basis of the Ionic order

A volute is a spiral, scroll-like ornament that forms the basis of the Ionic order, found in the capital of the Ionic column. It was later incorporated into Corinthian order and Composite column capitals. Four are normally to be found on an Ionic capital, eight on Composite capitals and smaller versions on the Corinthian capital.

Abacus (architecture) architectural term; flat slab forming the uppermost member or division of the capital of a column

In architecture, an abacus is a flat slab forming the uppermost member or division of the capital of a column, above the bell. Its chief function is to provide a large supporting surface, tending to be wider than the capital, as an abutment to receive the weight of the arch or the architrave above. The diminutive of abacus, abaculus, is used to describe small mosaic tiles, also called abaciscus or tessera, used to create ornamental floors with detailed patterns of chequers or squares in a tessellated pavement.

Entablature architectural element

An entablature is the superstructure of moldings and bands which lies horizontally above columns, resting on their capitals. Entablatures are major elements of classical architecture, and are commonly divided into the architrave, the frieze, and the cornice. The Greek and Roman temples are believed to be based on wooden structures, the design transition from wooden to stone structures being called petrification.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to classical architecture:

Ancient Greek temple structures built to house deity statues within Greek sanctuaries

Greek temples were structures built to house deity statues within Greek sanctuaries in ancient Greek religion. The temple interiors did not serve as meeting places, since the sacrifices and rituals dedicated to the respective deity took place outside them, within the wider precinct of the sanctuary, which might be large. Temples were frequently used to store votive offerings. They are the most important and most widespread building type in Greek architecture. In the Hellenistic kingdoms of Southwest Asia and of North Africa, buildings erected to fulfill the functions of a temple often continued to follow the local traditions. Even where a Greek influence is visible, such structures are not normally considered as Greek temples. This applies, for example, to the Graeco-Parthian and Bactrian temples, or to the Ptolemaic examples, which follow Egyptian tradition. Most Greek temples were oriented astronomically.

Tuscan order

The Tuscan order is one of the two classical orders developed by the Romans, the other being the composite order. It is influenced by the Doric order, but with un-fluted columns and a simpler entablature with no triglyphs or guttae. While relatively simple columns with round capitals had been part of the vernacular architecture of Italy and much of Europe since at least Etruscan architecture, the Romans did not consider this style to be a distinct architectural order. Its classification as a separate formal order was made during the Italian Renaissance.

Composite order architectural order

The composite order is a mixed order, combining the volutes of the Ionic order capital with the acanthus leaves of the Corinthian order. In many versions the composite order volutes are larger, however, and there is generally some ornament placed centrally between the volutes. The column of the composite order is typically ten diameters high, though as with all the orders these details may be adjusted by the architect for particular buildings. The Composite order is essentially treated as Corinthian except for the capital, with no consistent differences to that above or below the capital.

Callimachus (sculptor) ancient Greek sculptor

Callimachus was an architect and sculptor working in the second half of the 5th century BC in the manner established by Polyclitus. He was credited with work in both Athens and Corinth and was probably from one of the two cities. According to Vitruvius (iv.1), for his great ingenuity and taste the Athenians dubbed Callimachus katatêxitechnos. His reputation in the 2nd century AD was reported in an aside by Pausanias as one "although not of the first rank of artists, was yet of unparalleled cleverness, so that he was the first to drill holes through stones"—that is, in order to enhance surface effects of light and shade in locks of hair, foliage and other details. Thus it is reported that Callimachus was known for his penchant for elaborately detailed sculptures or drapery, though few securely attributed works by him survive.

This page is a glossary of architecture.

Acanthus (ornament) ornamental motif based on a characteristic Mediterranean plant with jagged leaves, Acanthus spinosus

The acanthus is one of the most common plant forms to make foliage ornament and decoration.


Cymatium molding appears at the top of the cornice in the classical order, and made of the s-shaped cyma molding, combining a concave cavetto with a convex ovolo. It is characteristic of Ionic columns and can appear as part of the entablature, the epistylium, and the capital. Often decorated with a palmette or egg-and-dart ornament on the surface of the molding.

Fluting (architecture)

Fluting in architecture consists of shallow grooves running along a surface.

<i>The Five Orders of Architecture</i> book by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola

The Five Orders of Architecture is a book on classical architecture by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola from 1562, and is considered "one of the most successful architectural textbooks ever written", despite having no text apart from the notes and the introduction. Originally published in Italian as Regola delli cinque ordini d'architettura, it has been fully or partially translated in English with different titles, including Canon of the Five Orders of Architecture; Rules of the Five Orders of Architecture; Vignola: an elementary treatise on architecture comprising the complete study of the five orders, with indication of their shadows and the first principles of construction; The Five Orders of Architecture according to Giacomo Barozzio of Vignola, to Which are Added the Greek Orders; and The five orders of architecture, the casting of shadows and the first principles of construction based on the system of Vignola.

Anta capital

An Anta capital is the crowning portion of an anta, the front edge of a supporting wall in Greek temple architecture. The anta is generally crowned by a stone block designed to spread the load from superstructure (entablature) it supports, called an "anta capitals" when it is structural, or sometimes "pilaster capital" if it is only decorative as often during the Roman period.


  1. Arnold, 2005, pp.204ff
  2. "The Classical Orders of Architecture" Robert Chitham, Routledge, 2007 p.212
  3. "The Classical Orders of Architecture" Robert Chitham, Routledge, 2007 p.31
  4. 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Antae article
  5. Architectural Elements, Emory University Archived 2016-03-16 at the Wayback Machine
  6. State Emblem, Know India
  7. John James, The Creation of Gothic Architecture – an Illustrated Thesaurus: The Ark of God, vols. 5, London and Hartley Vale, 2002/2008.
  8. Gradidge, Roderick (1981). Edwin Lutyens: Architect Laureate. London: George Allen and Unwin. p. 69. ISBN   0-04-720023-5.
  9. Gradidge, Roderick (1981). Edwin Lutyens: Architect Laureate. London: George Allen and Unwin. p. 151. ISBN   0-04-720023-5.
  10. Gradidge, Roderick (1981). Edwin Lutyens: Architect Laureate. London: George Allen and Unwin. p. 161. ISBN   0-04-720023-5.

Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Capital (architecture)". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.