Ionic order

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Architects' first real look at the Greek Ionic order: Julien David LeRoy, Les ruines plus beaux des monuments de la Grece Paris, 1758 (Plate XX) SixIonicOrders.jpg
Architects' first real look at the Greek Ionic order: Julien David LeRoy, Les ruines plus beaux des monuments de la Grèce Paris, 1758 (Plate XX)

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 (a plainer Doric), and the rich variant of Corinthian called the composite order. Of the three classical canonic orders, the Ionic order has the narrowest columns.


The Ionic capital is characterized by the use of volutes. The Ionic columns normally stand on a base which separates the shaft of the column from the stylobate or platform while the cap is usually enriched with egg-and-dart.

The ancient architect and architectural historian Vitruvius associates the Ionic with feminine proportions (the Doric representing the masculine). [1]


Ionic order: 1 - entablature, 2 - column, 3 - pediment, 4 - frieze, 5 - architrave or epistyle, 6 - capital (composed of abacus and volutes), 7 - shaft, 8 - base, 9 - stylobate, 10 - krepis Ionic order.svg
Ionic order: 1 – entablature, 2 – column, 3 – pediment, 4 – frieze, 5 – architrave or epistyle, 6 – capital (composed of abacus and volutes), 7 – shaft, 8 – base, 9 – stylobate, 10 – krepis


Ionic capital at the Erechtheum (Athens), 5th century BC Capiteles de la fachada este del Erecteon, Atenas, Grecia, 2019 06.jpg
Ionic capital at the Erechtheum (Athens), 5th century BC

The major features of the Ionic order are the volutes of its capital, which have been the subject of much theoretical and practical discourse, based on a brief and obscure passage in Vitruvius. [2] The only tools required to design these features were a straight-edge, a right angle, string (to establish half-lengths) and a compass. Below the volutes, the Ionic column may have a wide collar or banding separating the capital from the fluted shaft (as in, for example, the neoclassical mansion Castle Coole), or a swag of fruit and flowers may swing from the clefts or "neck" formed by the volutes.

Originally, the volutes lay in a single plane (illustration at right); then it was seen that they could be angled out on the corners. This feature of the Ionic order made it more pliant and satisfactory than the Doric to critical eyes in the 4th century BC: angling the volutes on the corner columns ensured that they "read" equally when seen from either front or side facade. However, some classical artists viewed this as unsatisfactory, feeling that the placement of Ionic columns at building corners required a distortion at the expense of the capital's structural logic; the Corinthian order would solve this by reading equally well from all angles. [3] The 16th-century Renaissance architect and theorist Vincenzo Scamozzi designed a version of such a perfectly four-sided Ionic capital that it became standard; when a Greek Ionic order was eventually reintroduced in the later 18th century Greek Revival, it conveyed an air of archaic freshness and primitive, perhaps even republican, vitality. [4]

Columns and entablature

The Ionic column is always more slender than the Doric; therefore, it always has a base: [5] Ionic columns are eight and nine column-diameters tall, and even more in the Antebellum colonnades of late American Greek Revival plantation houses.[ citation needed ]

Ionic columns are most often fluted. After a little early experimentation, the number of hollow flutes in the shaft settled at 24. This standardization kept the fluting in a familiar proportion to the diameter of the column at any scale, even when the height of the column was exaggerated. Roman fluting leaves a little of the column surface between each hollow; Greek fluting runs out to a knife edge that was easily scarred.

In some instances, the fluting has been omitted. English architect Inigo Jones introduced a note of sobriety with plain Ionic columns on his Banqueting House, Whitehall, London, and when Beaux-Arts architect John Russell Pope wanted to convey the manly stamina combined with intellect of Theodore Roosevelt, he left colossal Ionic columns unfluted on the Roosevelt memorial at the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, for an unusual impression of strength and stature. Wabash Railroad architect R.E. Mohr included eight unfluted Ionic frontal columns on his 1928 design for the railroad's St. Louis suburban stop Delmar Station.

Ionic anta capital at the Erechtheum.jpg
Detail Erechtheum Acropolis Athens.jpg
Left image: Characteristic design of the Ionic anta capital (essentially flat layout with straight horizontal moldings).
Right image: A Ionic anta capital, with extensive bands of floral patterns in prolongation of adjoining friezes at the Erechtheion (circa 410 BC).

The entablature resting on the columns has three parts: a plain architrave divided into two, or more generally three, bands, with a frieze resting on it that may be richly sculptural, and a cornice built up with dentils (like the closely spaced ends of joists), with a corona ("crown") and cyma ("ogee") molding to support the projecting roof. Pictorial often narrative bas-relief frieze carving provides a characteristic feature of the Ionic order, in the area where the Doric order is articulated with triglyphs. Roman and Renaissance practice condensed the height of the entablature by reducing the proportions of the architrave, which made the frieze more prominent.

Anta capital

The Ionic anta capital is the Ionic version of the anta capital, the crowning portion of an anta, which is 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 capital" when it is structural, or sometimes "pilaster capital" if it is only decorative as often during the Roman period.

In order not to protrude unduly from the wall, these anta capitals usually display a rather flat surface, so that the capital has more or less a rectangular-shaped structure overall. The Ionic anta capital, in contrast to the regular column capitals, is highly decorated and generally includes bands of alternating lotuses and flame palmettes, and bands of eggs and darts and beads and reels patterns, in order to maintain continuity with the decorative frieze lining the top of the walls. This difference with the column capitals disappeared with Roman times, when anta or pilaster capitals have designs very similar to those of the column capitals. [6] [7] The Ionic anta capitals as can be seen in the Ionic order temple of the Erechtheion (circa 410 BCE), are characteristically rectangular Ionic anta capitals, with extensive bands of floral patterns in prolongation of adjoining friezes.

History of use

Original polychromy in Ionic temples Ionic polychromy Die Baukunst der Griechen.jpg
Original polychromy in Ionic temples

The Ionic order originated in the mid-6th century BC in Ionia (broadly equivalent to modern day İzmir Province), as well as the southwestern coastland and islands of Asia Minor settled by Ionians, where Ionic Greek was spoken. The Ionic order column was being practiced in mainland Greece in the 5th century BC. It was most popular in the Archaic Period (750–480 BC) in Ionia. The first of the great Ionic temples was the Temple of Hera on Samos, built about 570–560 BC by the architect Rhoikos. It stood for only a decade before it was leveled by an earthquake. A longer-lasting 6th century Ionic temple was the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Parthenon, although it conforms mainly to the Doric order, also has some Ionic elements. A more purely Ionic mode to be seen on the Athenian Acropolis is exemplified in the Erechtheum.

Following the conquests of Alexander the Great in the east, a few examples of the Ionic order can be found as far as Pakistan with the Jandial temple near Taxila. Several examples of capitals displaying Ionic influences can be seen as far away as Patna, India, especially with the Pataliputra capital, dated to the 3rd century BC, and seemingly derived from the design of the Ionic anta capital, [8] [9] or the Sarnath capital, which has been described as "Perso-Ionic", [10] or "quasi-Ionic". [11] [12] [13]

Vitruvius, a practicing architect who worked in the time of Augustus, reports that the Doric column had its initial basis in the proportions of the male body, while Ionic columns took on a "slenderness" inspired by the female body. [14] Though he does not name his source for such a self-conscious and "literary" approach, it must be in traditions passed on from Hellenistic architects, such as Hermogenes of Priene, the architect of a famed temple of Artemis at Magnesia on the Meander in Lydia (now Turkey).

Renaissance architectural theorists took his hints to interpret the Ionic order as matronly in comparison to the Doric order, though not as wholly feminine as the Corinthian order. The Ionic is a natural order for post-Renaissance libraries and courts of justice, learned and civilized. Because no treatises on classical architecture survive earlier than that of Vitruvius, identification of such "meaning" in architectural elements as it was understood in the 5th and 4th centuries BC remains tenuous, though during the Renaissance it became part of the conventional "speech" of classicism. [15]

From the 17th century onwards, a much admired and copied version of Ionic was that which could be seen in the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome, first clearly presented in a detailed engraving in Antoine Desgodetz, Les edifices antiques de Rome (Paris 1682).

See also

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.

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

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.

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) part of a column (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.

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.

Outline of classical architecture Overview of and topical guide to classical architecture

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

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

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 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.

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.

Intercolumniation spacing between columns in a colonnade

In architecture, intercolumniation is the spacing between columns in a colonnade, as measured at the bottom of their shafts. In Classical, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture, intercolumniation was determined by a system devised by the first-century BC Roman architect Vitruvius. Vitruvius compiled standard intercolumniations for the three classical Greek orders, expressed in terms of the column diameter, twice the Vitruvian module, and he warned that when columns are placed three column-diameters or more apart, stone architraves break.

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.

Pataliputra capital monumental capital discovered in Patna, Bihar, India

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. It is dated to the 3rd century BCE.

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. Vitruvius. De architectura. p. 4.1. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
  2. "Geometric Methods of the 1500s for Laying Out the Ionic Volute" Archived 2005-12-28 at the Wayback Machine Denise Andrey and Mirko Galli, Nexus Network Journal, vol. 6 no. 2 (Autumn 2004), pp. 31–48. DOI 10.1007/s00004-004-0017-4.
  3. De la Croix, Horst; Tansey, Richard G.; Kirkpatrick, Diane (1991). Gardner's Art Through the Ages (9th ed.). Thomson/Wadsworth. p.  170. ISBN   0-15-503769-2.
  4. A brief and accessible sketch of this familiar aspect of the Greek Revival "idea of primitivism, of searching back to the true, untainted sources of architectural beauty" (p. 38) and of the Utopian aspects of Ledoux is briskly treated in Sir John Summerson, The Classical Language of Architecture (MIT Press) 1963; in discussions of American Greek Revival, the republic connotations of the Greek orders present an inescapable commonplace: "The Greek Revival style arose out of a young nation's desire to identify with the ideals of the ancient Greek Republic." ((Rensselaer County Historical Society) "Architectural Styles in Rensselaer County" (New York Archived 2007-09-23 at the Wayback Machine ); "Greece, the world's first democracy, seemed an appropriate philosophical reference point for a self-confident new republic." ((Old-House Journal), James C. Massey and Shirley Maxwell, "Greek Revival in America: From Tara to farmhouse temples.") are typical statements, selected almost at random from texts accessible on-line.
  5. Johann Georg Heck (1856). The Art of Building in Ancient and Modern Times, Or, Architecture Illustrated. D. Appleton. p. 25.
  6. Meyer, F.S. A handbook of ornament. p. 214. ISBN   9781171715481 . Retrieved 2016-11-16.
  7. The Classical Language of Architecture by John Summerson, p.47 "Anta" entry
  8. "These flat, splaying members with cavetto sides, have a long history in Greek architecture as anta capitals, and the rolls at upper and lower sides are also seen" John Boardman, "The Origins of Indian Stone Architecture", p.19 : "An interesting flat capital which, though differing from the classic forms, bears a distinct resemblance to the capitals of the pilasters of the Temple of Apollo Didymaeos at Miletos"
  9. A Companion to Asian Art and Architecture by Deborah S. Hutton, John Wiley & Sons, 2015, p.438
  10. The Journal Of The Royal Asiatic Society Of Great Britain And Ireland For 1907. 1907. p.  997.
  11. Banerjee, Gauranga Nath (1920). Hellenism in ancient India. Calcutta. p.  46.
  12. Allchin, F. R.; Erdosy, George (1995). The Archaeology of Early Historic South Asia: The Emergence of Cities and States. Cambridge University Press. p. 258 (f). ISBN   9780521376952.
  13. Allchin, F. R.; Erdosy, George (1995). The Archaeology of Early Historic South Asia: The Emergence of Cities and States. Cambridge University Press. p. xi, label 11.30. ISBN   9780521376952.
  14. Vitruvius (1914) [ca. 30–15 BC]. The Ten Books on Architecture. Translated by Morgan, Morris H. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 104. Thus in the invention of the two different kinds of columns, they borrowed manly beauty, naked and unadorned, for the one, and for the other the delicacy, adornment, and proportions characteristic of women.
  15. Summerson 1963.