The Ionic Order

The Ionic order developed in geographical and chronological parallel to the Doric, but as the primary order of a different ethnic division of Greeks and hence not as a stylistic alternative to the Doric. Like the Doric, Vitruvius regarded the Ionic as the translation into stone of a structural system originally devised in wood. In it he saw the dentil frieze as representing horizontal members holding up the roof, much like the triglyph "beam ends" of the Doric. Associating the Ionic order with the feminine gender, he regarded it from the beginning as more graceful (and, implicitly, more restrained in organic expression) than the Doric. Indeed, historically the formal evolution of its component parts produced less differentiation. On the other hand, the formats in which it could be employed were not so narrowly circumscribed as for the Doric, because its entablature imposed no special demands.

Like the Doric order, the Ionic comprises a platform, colonnade, and entablature, each subdivided into three parts (fig. 5-9). An important difference, though, lies in the fact that the columns standing on the three-step platform have a round molded base set upon a square plinth, the effect of which is to abstract the colonnade from its supporting surface. Although the shaft is tapered and swells with entasis, both modulations are so subtle as to be barely perceptible. The flutes are at once deeper and narrower than Doric flutes. Moreover, they are also separated by flat strips, or fillets, that denote the original surface of the cylindrical shaft. The effect is one of artifice, only remotely evocative of organic nature. The capital, with its large drooping volutes, is in expression an exact parallel of the shaft—faintly evocative of feminine curls but abstractly decorative all the same. There is no pretense that it is frieze architrave (with fasciae)

capital (volutes & rolls)

shaft (with flutes)

frieze architrave (with fasciae)

capital (volutes & rolls)

shaft (with flutes)

Figure 5-9

Diagram of the Ionic order (Stuart and Revett, Antiquities of Athens, London, 1858).

entablature column crepidoma

Figure 5-9

Diagram of the Ionic order (Stuart and Revett, Antiquities of Athens, London, 1858).

responding to the weight of the entablature. Rather, it serves more as a decorative articulation of the transition between weight and support.

The entablature purports to be simple, but it offers the opportunity to include all manner of refined ornaments. The architrave is subdivided into three overlapping horizontal strips, or fascias, topped by a projecting stringcourse, or cymatium, frequently embellished with an egg-and-dart motif. Then comes the frieze, which can be left plain or decorated with a continuous motif carved in relief. The top zone, the corona, includes a dentil frieze and molded cornice. Anywhere along the way the subparts may be underlined with a string of bead-and-reel ornament. Taken as a whole, the entablature provides an unbroken horizontal crown of three horizontal layers for an evenly spaced file of vertical supports, a play of contrasting forms evenly and elegantly detailed from bottom to top.

The only complication in the order is introduced by the capital. Seen from the front, it presents two scrolled ends hanging down from a sheet laid across a thin cushion. Seen from either side, it presents the cylindrical form implied by the scrolled ends. For as long as a row of columns continues in one direction there is no problem, but when the file of columns turns a corner the end column incongruously shows a side of the capital rather than its front. There were two ways to deal with this problem. The first was to carve volutes on both the front and the outer side and rolls on the back and inner side. On the outer corner of the capital, then, the two intersecting volutes would collide unless they were canted 45 degrees. The same solution was needed on the opposite corner, where two rolls met—a less satisfactory expedient. So long as the volutes on the front faced directly outward this solution to the problem could not be avoided. But it was possible to forgo the roll sides altogether, making pairs of volutes meet at 45-degree angles on each of the corners. This version of the capital was developed in the Hellenistic era and was available thereafter, but seldom adopted prior to the seventeenth century. (Roland Freart de Chambray credited Vincenzo Scamozzi with its invention, prior to publication of the latter's treatise in 1615. This attribution has generally stuck, even though both solutions were actually used from the second century B.c.E.).

The Ionic order is perhaps most distinguished from the Doric by its versatility. In special circumstances, where the adherence to canonical proportions for the Doric order prevented its consistent use throughout a building, the Ionic order could be substituted to solve the problem. Although the Doric order was versatile to the point of accommodating the substitution, only the Ionic could be flexible enough in its proportions to provide solutions to intractable problems. For that reason, the Ionic order spread beyond its native territory to become a feature of three of the most prominent Doric monuments of the classical era. They were the treasury (or rear chamber) of the Parthenon, the interior passageway of the Propylea to the Athenian Acropolis, and the interior of the Doric temple of Apollo at Bassae. In unmixed application it also served the most unorthodox plan among ancient temples, the Athenian Erechtheum (fig. 5-10).

Through the course of its evolution the Ionic order changed only in certain details. The column base, originally composed of a convex torus above two successive concave hollows, was revised to have a sloping profile, comprised of a thin torus above and a thick torus below, separated by a hollow. The latter type, known as the Attic base, was adopted in Greek Doric territory and was the preferred form in ancient Rome. The second change occurred in the capital, in which flat, frontal volutes acquired a deep spiral channel and curved flare while the roll on the sides tightened toward the middle. The third change was in the corona, where

Figure 5-10

Use of the Ionic order for an irregular plan: Erechtheum, Athens (courtesy Ann Thomas Wilkins).

Figure 5-10

Use of the Ionic order for an irregular plan: Erechtheum, Athens (courtesy Ann Thomas Wilkins).

additional rows of egg-and-dart or bead-and-reel ornament were added under or over the various standard features. Altogether the evolution was toward a more supple grace and sumptuous richness.

Vitruvius ostensibly regarded the Ionic as the standard order, using it as the exemplar for his only full explication of an order. The Doric, as already noted, was treated only in part because he regarded it as too much trouble, and the Corinthian he regarded as simply a variant of the Ionic. The Ionic order as he presented it was much closer to the actual Greek version than was his Doric. Indeed, it is from Vitru-vius that we have a documentary account of the various optical corrections of the Greeks, cited in his explication of the Ionic order. His version of the Ionic order, then, has very nearly the same structural intent as that of the Greeks, except that he neglected to deal with the corner problem posed by the capital. Implicit in that omission is his apprehension of the order as a motif rather than as a structural system, similar in character to his treatment of the Doric.

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