Comparative Ionic Orders

As the orders become more complex and more richly embellished, so there is less uniformity in different opinions regarding their composition and proportions. In the consideration of the Ionic order, these variations of interpretation seem to be of sufficient interest to warrant the illustration of examples from all eight of the chosen authorities.

First Vitruvius, whose allocation of 9 diameters to the height of the column meets with the approval of the majority of later authorities (although he cites an 8:1 proportion as used by the ancients). He describes the precise proportions for the capital, but unfortunately his method of setting out the volute forms one of the diagrams appended to his book which have not of course survived. The entablature of the Vitruvian Ionic is again simple and somewhat massive when compared with Renaissance examples, with the architrave in three faces, a frieze of considerable depth and a pronounced dentil course. Not unnaturally, Vitruvius advocates the Ionic base, with its astragals inserted in the scotia for this order, and in this he is imitated by Serlio, Vignola, Palladio and Perrault. Serlio explains succinctly the setting out of the volute. The eye of the volute is divided into six equal parts along its vertical diameter. The volute is composed of a series of semi-circles drawn in succession from these dividing points, the change of radius in each case occurring along the extended diameter, which is termed the catheta. The radius of the volute thus diminishes only twice in each revolution, causing considerable distortion and making it appear to lean outwards in an odd manner. Later authors prescribe more sophisticated methods of drawing the volute (see plate 18). It is noticeable that in his freer sketches Serlio himself does not stick rigidly to this form but produces, freehand, more regularly rounded volutes. In other ways, too, Serlio's version is singular. As well as a conventional dentilled form he shows a more elaborate variation, which I have illustrated, with both dentils and consoles, over a pulvinated frieze. His column, in accordance with the progression he has worked out for his orders, is restricted to 8 diameters in height.

Vignola's Ionic, adhering to the common 9 diameter column height, adopts an antique form of Ionic base which omits the lower torus. Otherwise it contains all the elements present in the order of the Thermae of Diocletion at Rome (a.d. 306), as is well illustrated by Normand's plates of the two orders,14 with a prominent dentil course and three faces to the architrave. Vignola's entablature, at 2.25 diameters, is the deepest of any since Vitruvius, and is copied by Chambers who, however, prefers to divide the architrave into two faces only, reserving the division into three for the Corinthian.

14. R. A. Cordingley, Normand's Parallel of the Orders of Architecture, plates 28, 33.

Chambers adopts a very similar entablature for his principal illustration of the Ionic, compounded from a number of antique sources. As alternatives he gives two Palladian examples, from the Villa Capra and the Basilica at Vicenza, though he dismisses as low and clumsy the pulvinated frieze with which both are furnished. Both have modillions beneath the corona, and indeed Palladio gives no example of the denticular form. Gibbs offers both modillion and dentil forms - his Ionic seems to be compounded of elements from Scamozzi and Palladio - but like Chambers he shows two faces only to the architrave. Perrault, in the inexorable march of his orders, ascribes a height of 8% diameters to the Ionic.

Scamozzi, whilst following Palladio in most essentials, and imitating his swept plinth, illustrates a capital with the volutes displayed on all four faces, rather than on the front and rear faces only (see also plates 20 and 21). Chambers actually credits Scamozzi with inventing the four-sided volute, or at least improving upon the capitals of the Temple of Concord at Rome (a.d. 10) which have not survived. A kind of prototype exists in Michaelangelo's Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Capitol at Rome, completed about 1545, in which the volutes, although on the front face only, are angled sharply forwards, and their eyes joined by a swag of husks. Moreover, Robertson15 illustrates a restoration of a four-faced capital from Pompeii, which shows some resemblance to the Bassae order excavated by Cockerell. The popularisation of this type of Ionic capital removes the chief limitation on the use of the order, namely the difficulty of handling the corners, and the four-faced capital is subsequently usually employed except where in neo-classical architecture the designer reverts deliberately to Greek prototypes.

15. D. S. Robertson, A Handbook of Greek and Roman Architecture, plate 9.

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