Corinthian order

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A Corinthian capital from the Pantheon, Rome, which provided a prominent model for Renaissance and later architects The Pantheon, Rome (14995115321).jpg
A Corinthian capital from the Pantheon, Rome, which provided a prominent model for Renaissance and later architects
Corinthinan peripteros of the Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek, Lebanon Temple of Bacchus at Baalbek.jpg
Corinthinan peripteros of the Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek, Lebanon
Two Corinthian pilasters in Saint-Sulpice, Paris Paris 06 - St Sulpice int 01.jpg
Two Corinthian pilasters in Saint-Sulpice, Paris

The Corinthian order (Greek: Κορινθιακός ρυθμός, Latin: Ordo Corinthius) is the last developed of the three principal classical orders of Ancient Greek architecture and Roman architecture. The other two are the Doric order which was the earliest, followed by the Ionic order. In Ancient Greek architecture, the Corinthian order follows the Ionic in almost all respects other than the capitals of the columns. 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. [1]


The name Corinthian is derived from the ancient Greek city of Corinth, although the style had its own model in Roman practice, following precedents set by the Temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum of Augustus (c. 2 AD). [2] It was employed in southern Gaul at the Maison Carrée, Nîmes and at the comparable Temple of Augustus and Livia at Vienne. Other prime examples noted by Mark Wilson Jones are the lower order of the Basilica Ulpia and the Arch of Trajan at Ancona (both of the reign of Trajan, 98–117 AD), the Column of Phocas (re-erected in Late Antiquity but 2nd century in origin), and the Temple of Bacchus at Baalbek (c. 150 AD). [3]


Greek Corinthian order

The Corinthian order is named for the Greek city-state of Corinth, to which it was connected in the period. However, according to the architectural historian Vitruvius, the column was created by the sculptor Callimachus, probably an Athenian, who drew acanthus leaves growing around a votive basket. Its earliest use can be traced back to the Late Classical Period (430–323 BC). The earliest Corinthian capital was found in Bassae, dated at 427 BC.

Roman Corinthian order

Bucrania with festoons decorating the Temple of Vesta from Hadrian's Villa (Tivoli) Temple of Vesta, built in the early 1st century BC on the acropolis of Tibur, Tivoli (14920855626).jpg
Bucrania with festoons decorating the Temple of Vesta from Hadrian's Villa (Tivoli)
Corinthian columns of the Arch of Septimius Severus, in the Forum Romanum Arco di Settimio Severo Roma 09feb08.jpg
Corinthian columns of the Arch of Septimius Severus, in the Forum Romanum
Corinthian columns of the Arch of Septimius Severus in Leptis Magna Leptis Magna, Libya - panoramio - Jan Hazevoet (1).jpg
Corinthian columns of the Arch of Septimius Severus in Leptis Magna

Proportion is a defining characteristic of the Corinthian order: the "coherent integration of dimensions and ratios in accordance with the principles of symmetria" are noted by Mark Wilson Jones, who finds that the ratio of total column height to column-shaft height is in a 6:5 ratio, so that, secondarily, the full height of column with capital is often a multiple of 6 Roman feet while the column height itself is a multiple of 5. In its proportions, the Corinthian column is similar to the Ionic column, though it is more slender, and stands apart by its distinctive carved capital. The abacus upon the capital has concave sides to conform to the outscrolling corners of the capital, and it may have a rosette at the center of each side. Corinthian columns were erected on the top level of the Roman Colosseum, holding up the least weight, and also having the slenderest ratio of thickness to height. Their height to width ratio is about 10:1. [4]

One variant is the Tivoli order, found at the Temple of Vesta, Tivoli. The Tivoli order's Corintinan capital has two rows of acanthus leaves and its abacus is decorated with oversize fleurons in the form of hibiscus flowers with pronounced spiral pistils. The column flutes have flat tops. The frieze exhibits fruit festoons suspended between bucrania. Above each festoon has a rosette over its center. The cornice does not have modillions.

Gandharan capitals

Figure of the Buddha, within a Corinthian capital, Gandhara, 3-4th century, Musee Guimet. Buddha Acanthus Capitol.jpg
Figure of the Buddha, within a Corinthian capital, Gandhara, 3–4th century, Musee Guimet.
Capital of the Column of Phocas Kapitell Phokassaule.jpg
Capital of the Column of Phocas
Vincenzo Scamozzi offers his version of the Corinthian capital, in a portrait by Veronese (Denver Art Museum) Scamozzi portrait by Veronese.jpg
Vincenzo Scamozzi offers his version of the Corinthian capital, in a portrait by Veronese (Denver Art Museum)

Indo-Corinthian capitals are capitals crowning columns or pilasters, which can be found in the northwestern Indian subcontinent, and usually combine Hellenistic and Indian elements. These capitals are typically dated to the 1st centuries of our era, and constitute important elements of Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara.

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, and often in the shade, of the luxurious foliage of Corinthian designs.

Renaissance Corinthian order

During the first flush of the Italian Renaissance, the Florentine architectural theorist Francesco di Giorgio expressed the human analogies that writers who followed Vitruvius often associated with the human form, in squared drawings he made of the Corinthian capital overlaid with human heads, to show the proportions common to both. [5]

The Corinthian architrave is divided in two or three sections, which may be equal, or may bear interesting proportional relationships, to one with another. Above the plain, unadorned architrave lies the frieze, which may be richly carved with a continuous design or left plain, as at the U.S. Capitol extension. At the Capitol the proportions of architrave to frieze are exactly 1:1. Above that, the profiles of the cornice mouldings are like those of the Ionic order. If the cornice is very deep, it may be supported by brackets or modillions, which are ornamental brackets used in a series under a cornice.

The Corinthian column is almost always fluted, and the flutes of a Corinthian column may be enriched. They may be filleted, with rods nestled within the hollow flutes, or stop-fluted, with the rods rising a third of the way, to where the entasis begins. In French, these are called chandelles and sometimes terminate in carved wisps of flame, or with bellflowers. Alternatively, beading or chains of husks may take the place of the fillets in the fluting, Corinthian being the most flexible of the orders, with more opportunities for variation.

Elaborating upon an offhand remark when Vitruvius accounted for the origin of its acanthus capital, it became a commonplace to identify the Corinthian column with the slender figure of a young girl; in this mode the classifying French painter Nicolas Poussin wrote to his friend Fréart de Chantelou in 1642:

The beautiful girls whom you will have seen in Nîmes will not, I am sure, have delighted your spirit any less than the beautiful columns of Maison Carrée for the one is no more than an old copy of the other. [6]

Sir William Chambers expressed the conventional comparison with the Doric order:

The proportions of the orders were by the ancients formed on those of the human body, and consequently, it could not be their intention to make a Corithian column, which, as Vitruvius observes, is to represent the delicacy of a young girl, as thick and much taller than a Doric one, which is designed to represent the bulk and vigour of a muscular full grown man. [7]


Ancient Greek capital from Tarentum with addorsed sphinxes, 4th-3rd centuries BC, made of limestone, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City) Corinthian column capital MET sf199626.jpg
Ancient Greek capital from Tarentum with addorsed sphinxes, 4th–3rd centuries BC, made of limestone, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)
Detailed illustration of a Corinthian capital, circa 1540-1560, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art Unknown, Corinthian capital, elevation (recto) Unknown, Corinthian capital, plan diagram and detail (verso) MET DP810838.jpg
Detailed illustration of a Corinthian capital, circa 1540–1560, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The oldest known example of a Corinthian column is in the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae in Arcadia, c. 450–420 BC. It is not part of the order of the temple itself, which has a Doric colonnade surrounding the temple and an Ionic order within the cella enclosure. A single Corinthian column stands free, centered within the cella. This is a mysterious feature, and archaeologists debate what this shows: some state that it is simply an example of a votive column. A few examples of Corinthian columns in Greece during the next century are all used inside temples. A more famous example, and the first documented use of the Corinthian order on the exterior of a structure, is the circular Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, erected c. 334 BC.

A Corinthian capital carefully buried in antiquity in the foundations of the circular tholos at Epidaurus was recovered during modern archaeological campaigns. Its enigmatic presence and preservation have been explained as a sculptor's model for stonemasons to follow [8] in erecting the temple dedicated to Asclepius. The architectural design of the building was credited in antiquity to the sculptor Polykleitos the Younger, son of the Classical Greek sculptor Polykleitos the Elder. The temple was erected in the 4th century BC. These capitals, in one of the most-visited sacred sites of Greece, influenced later Hellenistic and Roman designs for the Corinthian order. The concave sides of the abacus meet at a sharp keel edge, easily damaged, which in later and post-Renaissance practice has generally been replaced by a canted corner. Behind the scrolls the spreading cylindrical form of the central shaft is plainly visible.

Much later, the Roman writer Vitruvius (c. 75 BC – c. 15 BC) related that the Corinthian order had been invented by Callimachus, a Greek architect and sculptor who was inspired by the sight of a votive basket that had been left on the grave of a young girl. A few of her toys were in it, and a square tile had been placed over the basket, to protect them from the weather. An acanthus plant had grown through the woven basket, mixing its spiny, deeply cut leaves with the weave of the basket. [9]

The origin of the Corinthian order, illustrated in Claude Perrault's translation of the ten books of Vitruvius, 1684 The Origin of the Corinthian Order, engraving.jpg
The origin of the Corinthian order, illustrated in Claude Perrault's translation of the ten books of Vitruvius, 1684

Claude Perrault incorporated a vignette epitomizing the Callimachus tale in his illustration of the Corinthian order for his translation of Vitruvius, published in Paris, 1684. Perrault demonstrates in his engraving how the proportions of the carved capital could be adjusted according to demands of the design, without offending. The texture and outline of Perrault's leaves is dry and tight compared to their 19th-century naturalism at the U.S. Capitol. A Corinthian capital may be seen as an enriched development of the Ionic capital, though one may have to look closely at a Corinthian capital to see the Ionic volutes ("helices"), at the corners, perhaps reduced in size and importance, scrolling out above the two ranks of stylized acanthus leaves and stalks ("cauliculi" or caulicoles), eight in all, and to notice that smaller volutes scroll inwards to meet each other on each side. The leaves may be quite stiff, schematic and dry, or they may be extravagantly drilled and undercut, naturalistic and spiky. In Late Antique and Byzantine practice, the leaves may be blown sideways, as if by the wind of Faith. Unlike the Doric and Ionic column capitals, a Corinthian capital has no neck beneath it, just a ring-like astragal molding or a banding that forms the base of the capital, recalling the base of the legendary basket.

Most buildings (and most clients) are satisfied with just two orders. When orders are superposed one above another, as they are at the Colosseum, the natural progression is from sturdiest and plainest (Doric) at the bottom, to slenderest and richest (Corinthian) at the top. The Colosseum's topmost tier has an unusual order that came to be known as the Composite order during the 16th century. The mid-16th-century Italians, especially Sebastiano Serlio and Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola, who established a canonic version of the orders, thought they detected a "Composite order", combining the volutes of the Ionic with the foliage of the Corinthian, but in Roman practice volutes were almost always present.

In Romanesque and Gothic architecture, where the Classical system had been replaced by a new aesthetic composed of arched vaults springing from columns, the Corinthian capital was still retained. It might be severely plain, as in the typical Cistercian architecture, which encouraged no distraction from liturgy and ascetic contemplation, or in other contexts it could be treated to numerous fanciful variations, even on the capitals of a series of columns or colonettes within the same system.

During the 16th century, a sequence of engravings of the orders in architectural treatises helped standardize their details within rigid limits: Sebastiano Serlio; the Regola delli cinque ordini of Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola (1507–1573); I quattro libri dell'architettura of Andrea Palladio, and Vincenzo Scamozzi's L'idea dell'architettura universale, were followed in the 17th century by French treatises with further refined engraved models, such as Perrault's.

Notable examples

The Maison Carree in Nimes, France, built in circa 14 BC Maison Carree in Nimes (16).jpg
The Maison Carrée in Nîmes, France, built in circa 14 BC
The Corinthian order as used in extending the United States Capitol in 1854: the column's shaft has been omitted CorinthOrdUsCap.jpg
The Corinthian order as used in extending the United States Capitol in 1854: the column's shaft has been omitted
Corinthian columns in Jerash, Jordan JerashCorinthian.jpg
Corinthian columns in Jerash, Jordan
Corinthian capital from the Colosseum with gorgoneia Interior del Coliseo. 07.JPG
Corinthian capital from the Colosseum with gorgoneia
Corinthian capitals in the Temple of Hercules Victor, Rome Temple of Hercules (Rome) (3492384864).jpg
Corinthian capitals in the Temple of Hercules Victor, Rome
The Constantinian basilica of Santa Sabina interior, with spolia Corinthian columns from the Temple of Juno Regina. Rom, Basilika Santa Sabina, Innenansicht.jpg
The Constantinian basilica of Santa Sabina interior, with spolia Corinthian columns from the Temple of Juno Regina.

See also


  1. "Corinthian Columns". Architect of the Capitol. Retrieved 2019-03-24.
  2. Mark Wilson Jones, "Designing the Roman Corinthian order", Journal of Roman Archaeology 2:35-69 (1989).
  3. Jones 1989.
  4. Peter D'Epiro; Mary Desmond Pinkowish (22 December 2010). What are the Seven Wonders of the World?: And 100 Other Great Cultural Lists--Fully Explicated. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 133. ISBN   978-0-307-49107-7.
  5. Francesco di Giorgio's sheet with the drawings, from the Turin codex Saluzziano of his Trattati di architettura ingegneria e arte militare, c. 1480–1500, is illustrated by Rudolf Wittkower, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism (1962) 1965, pl. ic
  6. Quoted by Sir Kenneth Clark, The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form, 1956, p. 45.
  7. Chambers, A Treatise on the Decorative Part of Civil Architecture (Joseph Gwilt ed, 1825:pp 159–61).
  8. Alison Burford (The Greek Temple Builders at Epidauros, Liverpool, 1969, p. 65) suggests instead that it was spoilt in the carving, one volute being incorrectly detached from its field; Hugh Plommer, reviewing it for The Classical Review (New Series, 21.2 [June 1971], pp 269–272), remarks that the error involved an excess of work and remains convinced that the capital was a model.
  9. Vitr. 4.1.9-10

Related Research Articles

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.

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.

Ionic order Order of classical architecture

The Ionic order is one of the three canonic orders of classical architecture, the other two being the Doric and the Corinthian. There are two lesser orders: the Tuscan, and the rich variant of Corinthian called the composite order. Of the three classical canonic orders, the Corinthian order has the narrowest columns, followed by the Ionic order, with the Doric order having the widest columns.

Pilaster Decorative architectural element giving the appearance of a supporting column

In classical architecture, a pilaster is an architectural element used to give the appearance of a supporting column and to articulate an extent of wall, with only an ornamental function. It consists of a flat surface raised from the main wall surface, usually treated as though it were a column, with a capital at the top, plinth (base) at the bottom, and the various other column elements. In contrast to a pilaster, an engaged column or buttress can support the structure of a wall and roof above.

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.

Capital (architecture) Upper part of a column

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.

Abacus (architecture) Architecture term for a flat slab forming the uppermost part 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.

Ancient Greek temple Buildings housing cult statues in 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 fulfil 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 Architectural 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 is first mentioned in Isidore of Seville's Etymologies and refined during the Italian Renaissance.

Composite 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)

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

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

Intercolumniation Spacing between columns in a colonnade

In architecture, intercolumniation is the proportional spacing between columns in a colonnade, often expressed as a multiple of the column diameter as measured at the bottom of the shaft. In Classical, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture, intercolumniation was determined by a system described by the first-century BC Roman architect Vitruvius. Vitruvius named five systems of intercolumniation, and warned that when columns are placed three column-diameters or more apart, stone architraves break. According to Vitruvius, the Hellenistic architect Hermogenes formulated these proportions ("symmetriae") and perfected the Eustyle arrangement, which has an enlarged bay in the center of the façade.

Fluting (architecture)

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

<i>The Five Orders of Architecture</i>

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.