VITRUVIUS, BOOK IV, CHAPTER 1
On the Corintian capital







CONTENTS OF THIS CHAPTER

  1. Text and translation
  2. Comment
    1. Callimachus
    2. Porticus Octaviae
  3. Bibliography
  4. Illustration of the Cesariano edition
  5. Fragments of renaissance treatises about the Corinthian capital
    1. Alberti
    2. Serlio
    3. Palladio
    4. Vignola
    5. De l'Orme

1. Columna corinthiae praeter capitula omnes symmetrias habent uti ionicae, sed capitulorum altitudines efficiunt eas pro rata excelsiores et graciliores, quod ionici apituli altitudo tertia pars est crassitudinis columna, corinthii tota crassitudo scapi. Igitur quod duae partes e crassitudine corinthiarum adiciuntur, efficiunt excelsitate speciem earum graciliorem.

Translation

1. Corinthian columns have all their proportions like the Ionic, with the exception of their capitals. The height of the capitals renders them proportionately higher and more slender, because the height of the Ionic capital is one third of the thickness of the column, that of the Corinthian is the whole diameter of the shaft. Therefore because two-thirds of the diameter of the Corinthian columns are added to the capitals they give an appearance of greater slenderness owing to the increase in height.

2. Cetera membra quae supra columnas inponuntur, aut e doricis symmetriis aut ionicis moribus in corinthiis columnis conlocantur, quod ipsum corinthium genus propriam coronarum reliquorumque ornamentorum non habuerat institutionem, sed aut e triglyphorum rationibus mutuli in coronis et epistyliis guttae dorico more disponuntur, aut ex ionicis institutis zophoroe scalpturis ornati cum denticulis et coronis distribuuntur.

Translation

2. The remaining features which are fixed above the columns are placed upon them in accordance either with Doric proportions or in the Ionic manner; because the Corintian order has not separate rules for the cornices and the other ornaments, but, on the one hand, the mutules in the cornices and the guttae in the architrave, are disposed in the Doric fashion; or, on the other hand following the Ionic arrangement, the friezes are adorned with carving and are combined with dentils and cornices.

3. Ita e generibus duobus capitulo interposito tertium genus in operibus est procreatum. E columnarum enim formationibus trium generum factae sunt nominationes, dorica, ionica, corinthia, e quibus prima et antiquitus dorica est nata.
Namque Achaia Peloponnessoque tota Dorus, Hellenos et Phtiados nymphae filius, regnavit, isque Argis, vetusta civitate, Iunonis templum aedificavit, eius generis fortuito formae fanum deinde isdem generibus in ceteris Achaiae civitatibus, cum etiamnum non esset symmetriarum ratio nata.

Translation

3. Thus from the two orders, a third is produced by the introduction of a new capital. From the formation of the columns, come the names of the three styles, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian; of which the doric came first and from early ages.
For in Achaea and over the whole peloponnese, Dorus, the son of Hellen and the nymph Phtia was king; by chance he built a temple in this style at the old city of Argos, in the sanctuary of Juno, and, afterwards, in the other cities of Achaea after the same style, when as yet the determination of the exact proportions of the order had not begun.

4. Postea autem quam Athenienses ex responsis Apollinis Delphici, communi consilio totius Hellados, XIII colonias uno tempore in Asiam deduxerunt ducesque in singulis coloniis constituerunt et summam imperii potestatem Ioni, Xuthi et Creusae filio, dederunt, quem etiam Apollo Delphis suum filium in responsis est professus, isque eas colonias in Asiam deduxit et Cariae fines occupavit ibique civitates amplissimas constituit Ephesum, Miletum, Myunta (quae olim ab aqua est devorata; cuius sacra et suffragium Milesiis Iones adtribuerunt), Prienen, Samum, Teon, Colophona, Chium, Erythras, Phocaeam, Clazomenas, Lebedon, Meliten (haec Milete propter civium adrogantiam ab his civitatibus bello inducto communi consilio est sublata; cuius loco postea regis Attali et Arsinoes beneficio Zmyrnaeorum civitas inter Iones est recepta): hac civitates cum Caras et Lelegas eiecissent, eam terrae regionem a duce suo Ione appellaverunt Ioniam ibique deorum inmortalium templa constituentes coeperunt fana aedificare.

Translation

4. Afterwards the Athenians, in accordance with the responses of Apollo, and by the general consent of all Greece, founded thirteen colonies in Asia at one time. They appointed chiefs in the several colonies, and gave the supreme authority to Ion, the son of Xuthus and Creusa (whom Apollo, in his responses at Delphi, had declared to be his son). He led the colonies into Asia and seized the territory of Caria. There he established the large cities of Ephesus, Miletus, Myus (of which, being swallowed up in marshy ground, the worships and vote in the League were transferred to Miletus), Priene, Samos, Teos, Colophon, Chios, Erythrae, Phocaea, Clazomenae, Lebedos, Melite. Against Melite, because of the insolence of its citizens, war was declared by the other cities, and it was destroyed by general consent. In its place, afterwards, the city of the Smyrnaeans was received among the Ionians by the kindness of King Attalus and Arsinoe. These cities drove out the Carians and Leleges and named that region of the earth Ionia from their leader Ion, and establishing there sactuaries of the immortal gods, they began to build temples in them.

5. Et primum Apollini Panionio aedem, uti viderant in Achaia, constituerunt et eam Doricam appellaverunt, quod in Dorieon civitatibus primum factam eo genere viderunt.

Translation

5. First, to Panionian Apollo they established a temple as they had seen in Achaia. Then they called it Doric because they had first seen it built in that style.

6. In ea aede cum voluissent columnas conlocare, non habentes symmetrias earum et quaerentes quibus rationibus efficere possent, uti et ad onus ferendum essent idoneae et in aspectu probatam haberent venustatem, dimensi sunt virilis pedis vestigium et id retulerunt in altitudinem. Cum invenissent pedem sextam partem esse altitudinis in homine, item in columnam transtulerunt et, qua crassitudine fecerunt basim scapi, tanta sex cum capitulo in altitudinem extulerunt. Ita dorica columna virilis corporis proportionem et firmitatem et venustatem in aedificiis praestare coepit.

Translation

6. When they wished to place columns in that temple, not having their proportions, and seeking by what method they could make them fit to bear weight, and in their appearance to have an approved grace, they measured a man's footstep and applied it to his height. Finding that the foot was the sixth part of the height in a man, they applied this proportion to the column. Of whatever thickness they made the base of the shaft they raised it along with the capital to six times as much in height. So the Doric column began to furnish the proportion of a man's body, its strenght and grace.

7. Item postea Dianae constituere aedem, quaerentes novi generis speciem isdem vestigis ad muliebrem transtulerunt gracilitatem, et fecerunt primum columnae crassitudinem octava parte, ut haberet speciem excelsiorem. Basi spiram subposuerunt pro calceo, capitulo volutas uti capillamento concrispatos cincinnos praependentes dextra ac sinistra conlocaverunt et cymatiis et encarpis pro crinibus dispositis frontes ornaverunt truncoque toto strias uti stolarum rugas matronali more dimiserunt, ita duobus discriminibus columnarum inventionem, unam virili sine ornatu nudam speciem, alteram muliebri.

Translation

7. Afterwards also seeking to plan a temple of diana in a new kind of style, they changed it to a feminine slenderness with the same measurement by feet. And first they made the diameter of the column the eight part of it, so that it might appear taller. Under the base they placed a convex moulding as if a shoe; at the capital they put volutes, like graceful curling hair, hanging over right and left. And arranging cymatia and festoons in place of hair, they ornamented the front, and, over all the trunk (i.e. the shaft), they let fluting fall, like the folds of matronly robes; thus they proceeded to the invention of columns in two manners; one manlike in appearance, bare, unadorned; the other feminine.

8. Subtilitate iudiciorum progressi et gracilioribus modulis delectati septem crassitudinis diametros in altitudinem columnae doricae, ionicae novem constituerunt. Id autem quod Iones fecerunt primo, Ionicum est nominatum.
Tertium vero, quod Corinthium, virginalis habet gracilitatis imitationem, quod virgines propter aetatis teneritatem gracilioribus membris figuratae effectus recipiunt in ornatu venustiores.

Translation

8. Advancing in the subtlety of their judgments and preferring slighter modules, they fixed seven measures of the diameter for the height of the Doric column, nine for the Ionic. This order because the Ionians made it first, was named Ionic.
But the third order, which is called Corinthian, imitates the slight figure of a maiden; because girls are represented with slighter dimensions because of their tener age, and admit of more graceful effects in ornament.

9. Eius autem capituli prima inventio sic memoratur esse facta. Virgo civis Corinthia iam matura nuptiis inplicata morbo decessit. Post sepulturam eius, quibus ea virgo viva poculis delectabatur, nutrix collecta et conposita in calatho pertulit ad monumentum et in summo conlocavit et, uti ea permanerent diutius subdiu, tegula texit. Is calathus fortuito supra acanthi radicem fuerit conlocatus. Interim ponderre pressa radix acanthi media folia et cauliculos circum vernum tempus profudit, cuius cauliculi secundum calathi latera crescentes et ab angulis tegulae ponderis necessitate expressi flexuras in extremas partes volutarum facere sunt coacti.

Translation

9. Now the first invention of that capital is related to have happened thus. A girl, a native of Corinth, already of age to be married, was attacked by disease and died. After her funeral, the goblets which delighted her when living, were put together in a basket by her nurse, carried to the monument, and placed on the top. That they might remain longer, exposed as they were to the weather, she covered the basket with a tile. As it happened the basket was placed upon the root of an acanthus. Meanwhile about spring time, the root of the acanthus, being pressed down in the middle by the weight, put forth leaves and shoots. The shoots grew up the sides of the basket, and, being pressed down at the angles by the force of the weight of the tile, were compelled to form the curves of volutes at the extreme parts.

10. Tunc Callimachus qui propter elegantiam e subtilitatem artis marmoreae ab Atheniensibus catatechnos fuerat nominatus, praeteriens hoc monumentum animadvertit eum calathum et circa foliorum nascentem teneritatem, delectatusque genere et formae novitate ad id exemplar columnas apud Corinthios fecit symmetriasque constituit; ex eo in operis perfectionibus Corinthii generis distribuit rationes.

Translation

10. then Callimachus, who for the elegance and refinement of his marble carving was nick-named catatechnos by the Athenians, was passing the monument, perceived the basket and the young leaves growing up. Pleased with the style and novelty of the grouping, he made columns for the Corinthians on this model and fixed the proportions. thence he distributed the details of the Corinthian order throughout the work.

11. Eius autem capituli symmetria sic est facienda, uti, quanta fuerit crassitudo imae columnae, tanta sit altitudo capituli cu mabaco. Abaci latitudo ita habeat rationem, ut, quanta fuerit altitudo, tanta duo sint diagonia ab angulo ad angulum; spatia enim ita iustas habebunt frontes quoquoversus latitudinis. Frontes simentur introrsus ab extremis angulis abaci suae frontis latitudinis nona. Ad imum capituli tantam habeat crassitudinem, quantam habet summa columna praeter apothesim et astragalum. Abaci crassitudo septima capituli altitudinis.

Translation

11. The proportions of the capital are to be arranged thus. The height of the capital with the abacus is to equal the diameter of the bottom of the column. The width of the abacus is to be so proportioned: the diagonal lines from angle to angle are to equal twice the height of the capital. Thus the front elevations in every direction, will have the right breadth. Let the faces be curved inward from the extreme angles of the abacus the ninth part of the breadth of the face. At the lowest part, let the capital have the diameter of the top of the column, excluding the curving away of the column into the capital, and the astragal. The thickness of the abacus is one seventh of the height of the capital.

12. Dempta abaci crassitudine dividatur reliqua pars in partes tres, e quibus una imo folio detur; secundum folium mediam altitudinem teneat; coliculi eandem habeant altitudinem, e quibus folia nascuntur proiecta, uti excipiant quae ex coliculis natae procurrunt ad extremos angulos volutae; minoresque helices intra suum medium, qui est in abaco; flores subiecti scalpantur. Flores in quattuor partibus, quanta erit abaci crassitudo, tam magni formentur. Ita his symmetriis corinthia capitula suas habebunt exactiones.
Sunt autem, quae isdem columnis inponuntur, capitulorum genera variis vocabulis nominata, quorum nec proprietates symmetriarum nec columnarum genus aliud nominare possumus, sed ipsorum vocabula traducta et commutata ex corinthiis et pulvinatis et doricis videmus, quorum symmetriae sunt in novarum scalpturarum translatae subtilitatem.

Translation

12. Taking away the thickness of the abacus, let the remainder be divided into three parts, of which let one be given to the lowest leaf. Let the second leaf have two thirds. Let the stalks have the same height, and let leaves arise from the stalks and run out to the extreme angles. Let the smaller spirals be carved running up to the flower which is in the middle of the abacus. On the four sides let flowers be carved, their width being equal to the height of the abacus. With these proportions, Corinthian capitals will have their appropriate execution.
There are other kinds of capitals variously named which are placed upon these same columns. We cannot name their special proportions nor the style of the columns in any other manner. We observe that even their names are transferred and changed from the Corinthian, Pulvinate and doric styles, the proportions of which are transferred to the refinements of these novel sculptures.

COMMENT

In this chapter Vitruvius seems to mix up things. The building up of this chapter contrasts sharply with the methodical approach without any digression of book III concerning the Ionic style. His literary style shifts from a scientific and methodical approach to an associative approach. Maybe he wanted here to please his readers who were maybe not architects or technicians - for technicians his descriptions are not detailed enough - but interested lays, among which the emperor - who is the dedicatee of the De Architectura -himself (although it is very doubtful whether Augustus really ever read this book) This style was not exceptional in antique literature. Vitruvius starts with a symplifying indication of the Corinthian style in period 1: only the capital is different, the column shaft and its base is - according to Vitruvius - the same as in the Ionic order. The entablature can be elaborated either in Doric or in Ionic style. This statement brings him (association) to the discussion about the origin of the two styles which go back to historico-mythological roots and are related to the architectural evolution on the Greek mainland and to the foundation of Greek colonies in Asia Minor. At the same time he relates the origin of the proportion of the different styles to the human body, a theory that can be found until present days in theoretical books about Greek architecture (see periods 2 to 8). This association of architectural proportions to the proportions of the human body was already elaborated in chapter 1 of book III. Writing about the slenderness of the Ionic style, related to feminine proportions, in period 8 he thinks again on the Corinthian capital and comes back to his starting point.

BASSAE

The invention of the Corinthian capital is attributed to Callimachus in periods 9-10.

This Callimachus was an Athenian sculptor who lived in the 5th century B.C. Although no sculptures survive in the original, he was reported to have carved the golden lamp that burned perpetually in the Erechteum (completed in 408). Callimachus was noted and critized by his contemporaries for the overelaboration of draperies and other details in his sculptures. Viewed in this light, the elaborate carving that characterizes the Corinthian capital may well be his invention. Modern scholars have attributed to Callimachus the 'Aphrodite Genetrix', a Roman replica of which is in the Louvre. He has also been linked with a series of reliefs of dancing Maenads, such as the Roman copy now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which are notable for their sensuously modeled limbs set off by voluminous, rippling draperies.
Further this Callimachus is known as a member of the group of artists around Pericles. As a sculptor he worked with metal as well as with stone. It can be assumed that he was the first to apply a bronzen acanthus decoration to the older form of bell capital. Later this invention was copied in stone. The oldest known and preserved Corinthian capitals are in the temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae on the Peloponesos. This temple was finished in 425 B.C. Corinthian capitals were only used in the interior.

In Rome the first Corinthian capitals are known from the Porticus Octavia, a portico build by Cnaeus Octavius in 168 B.C. to commemorate a naval victory over Perseus of Macedonia. It stood between the theatre of Pompeius and the Circus Flaminius and was also called porticus Corinthia from its bronze Corinthian capitals, it means that a bronze decoration was applied to a stone core. This portico is described by Pliny (Naturalis Historiae, xxxiv, 13) but actually nothing remains.

Finally in periods 11 and 12 Vitruvius gives a description of the Corinthian capital indicating the appropriate proportions.
At the end of period 12 he alludes to other forms of capitals which could be applied to the same (Ionic) type of column but without giving any further explanation. Maybe Vitruvius meant the so called composite capital which is a combination of the Corinthian and the Ionic style: above the acanthus leaves of the Corinthian were added the scrolls of the Ionic capital.

Apart from the origin and proportions of the capital Vitruvius gives not very much detailed explanation about the Corinthian temple. He only says that either the rules of the Ionic or the doric style can be followed. This results in two different kinds of temples because in the Ionic order the lower thickness of the columns is used as module while in the Doric style the module is half the lower thickness of the column. The first difference is in the height of the architrave. In the Ionic order this depends from the height of the column and can shift from 1/2 of the lower diameter to 1/12 of the height of the column for the Ionic style, while in the Doric only a proportion of 1/2 of the lower diameter is used. The Doric frieze above the architrave is 1 1/2 module while in the Ionic style this height is different when the frieze is adorned (H. frieze = H. architrave + 1/4) or plain (H. frieze = H. architrave - 1/4).

It should be interesting to examine if the rules of Vitruvius were followed in his days. For this we have the surveys of De l'Orme and Serlio, but these two are giving totally different measures for the same details; when we compare these two publications they seem to talk about a different building. Further De l'Orme clearly mixed up the measures and their subdivisions when he claims to use to old Roman palm which he divides in minutes and inches, interchanging the values of minutes and inches. Therefore it was impossible to do this examination. If anyone out there has some details about the measures of the Corinthian order in a particular Roman building, this information would be very welcome.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Les dix livres d'architecture de Vitruve, Corrigés et traduits en 1684 par C. Perrault, Paris, 1684.
Vitruvius, De Architectura libri X, ed. F. Granger, London, 1962.
Ton Peters, Vitruvius, Handboek bouwkunde, Amsterdam, 1999.
W.B.Dinsmoor, The Architecture of Ancient Greece, London, 1950.
A.Boëthius - J.B.Ward-Perkins, Etruscan and Roman Architecture, Harmondsworth, 1970.
B.Wesenberg, Vitruvs griechischer Tempel, in Vitruv-Kolloquium des Deutschen Archäologen-Verbandes, Darmstadt, 1984, pp. 63-96
H.Knell, Vitruvs Architekturtheorie, Darmstadt, 1985.
E.Rawson, Intellectual life in the Late Roman Republic, London, 1985.
Philibert De l'Orme, Architecture, Rouen, 1648
Andrea Palladio, The Four Books of Architecture, London, 1738
J.Ryckwert - N.Leach - R.Tavernor, Leon Battista Alberti, On the Art of Building in Ten Books, Cambridge, 1988
V.Hart - P.Hicks, Sebastiano Serlio, On Architecture, New Haven-London, 1996
B.Mitrovic, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, Canon of the Five Orders of Architecture, New York, 1999




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