Corinthian Columns

Corinthian Columns

You’ve heard of Corinthian columns, but do you know what they look like?

The ancient Greeks invented three types of columns: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian.




The Parthenon

Of the three, Doric columns are the simplest. A Doric column has a top–called the capital–made of a circle topped by a square. The tall part of the column is called the shaft. The shaft of a Doric column is actually quite plain, but very powerful looking. They are especially impressive when they are lined up along the front of a rectangular structure.




Temple of Athena Nike

Ionic columns have taller shafts than Doric columns. Because of their height, they also look more slender than Doric columns. Ionic columns have a unique characteristic, a sort of optical illusion. There is a slight bulge in the columns, called an entasis, that makes the columns look straight, even at a distance. Without the entasis, your eyes would pick up that Ionic columns get narrower as they rise. An Ionic column’s base is large and looks like a set of stacked rings. At the top, the capitals consist of scrolls above the shaft.




Temple of Olympian Zeus

Corinthian columns are the most decorative and the one that most modern people like the best. Corinthian columns also use an entasis to make the columns look straight. The shaft has slender flutes and the base is like the Doric. The capitals are very ornate with elaborate flowers and acanthus leaves below a small scroll. Ironically, the Romans used the Corinthian column much more often than the Greeks did.

So why is it called a Corinthian column?

De Architectura is commonly accepted as the world’s very first architecture manual. Written in about 30 B.C., De Architectura’s author, Vitruvius, tells the story of a young girl’s death in Corinth. “A free-born maiden of Corinth, just of marriageable age, was attached by an illness and passed away,” he writes.

Vitruvius says the girl was buried near the root of an acanthus tree, with a basket of her favorite things. The next spring, leaves and stalks grew up through the basket. Callimachus, a Corinthian sculptor, walked past the tomb and was so impressed with the beauty he began to incorporate the intricate design onto column capitals. And, so (at least according to this story), the Corinthian column was born.

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