Classical Comments: Notes On Moldings, The Change from Roman to Greek (by Calder Loth)


by Calder Loth

*Blog post courtesy of the Classicist Blog

Senior Architectural Historian for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Member of the Institute of Classical Classical Architecture & Art‘s Advisory Council.

For this Classical Comments piece we will deal with some architectural minutiae—the transition from Roman-style moldings to Greek ones that took place in the late 18th century. Until the publication in 1762 of the first volume of James Stuart and Nicholas Revett’s The Antiquities of Athens virtually all 18th-century molding profiles in both Britain and America adhered strictly to ancient Roman versions as depicted in the Renaissance treatises of Palladio, Vignola, Scamozzi and others. For their sources these architects measured and published the examples close at hand, which were in abundance in the Roman ruins around them. High-style Greek ruins were all but inaccessible for study, Greece having succumbed to unwelcoming Ottoman rule with the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Figure 1. The Tuscan order. Andrea Palladio, The Four Books on Architecture (1570) Tavernor and Schofield edition, 1997, Book 1, p. 28.


Using Palladio’s Four Books as a primary source, 18th-century British treatise and pattern book authors maintained the authority of Roman moldings except for their rare indulgences in Gothic and Chinese-style designs. Palladio’s plate of different versions of the Tuscan order clearly demonstrates his observation that Roman moldings were simple segments of circles, each curve having a single center point and a single radius. (Figure 1)


Figure 2. James Gibbs, Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture (1732), Plate XXIV.

Figure 2. James Gibbs, Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture (1732), Plate XXIV.









In Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture, a standard textbook for the Anglo-Palladian movement, James Gibbs presented a diagram defining the moldings appropriate for each of the five orders. Shown with a dotted line, his single radius for each segment is consistent with Palladio’s interpretation of Roman moldings as basic segments of circles. (Figure 2)
Figure 3. Abraham Swan, The British Architect (1745), Plate II.

Figure 3. Abraham Swan, The British Architect (1745), Plate II.



















As with Palladio’s Tuscan, Abraham Swan’s plate of the Tuscan order reveals the straightforward character of typical Roman moldings. (Figure 3) Beginning with the cyma recta in the crown molding, each curve of the S-shaped molding has only a single radius. This pattern is followed in the bed moldings, consisting of the convex quarter-round ovolo and below it the concave, quarter-round cavetto. In the capital, the echinus takes on a quarter-round contour, and the astragal has a half-round profile. Likewise, in the base, the torus is a bold, half-round molding, providing visual support to the weight of the columns and entablature.


Figure 4. Second-floor mantel, Drayton Hall, Charleston, South Carolina.

Figure 4. Second-floor mantel, Drayton Hall, Charleston, South Carolina.













Figure 5. William Salmon, Palladio Londinensis (Second edition, 1738), Plate XXIX (detail).

Figure 5. William Salmon, Palladio Londinensis (Second edition, 1738), Plate XXIX (detail).






















A detail of the moldings on a second-floor mantel in Drayton Hall (ca. 1750) reveals how closely its joiner adhered to the accepted rules for classical profiles. (Figure 4) Among the architectural books in John Drayton’s library, for whom Drayton Hall was built, were the Isaac Ware edition of Palladio’s The Four Books on Architecture (1738), William Salmon’s Palladio Londinensis (2nd edition, 1738), and Batty Langley’s The London Prices of Bricklayers Materials and Works (1749).[1] We can compare the mantel’s moldings with those shown on a plate in Palladio Londinensis containing similar standard Roman moldings, all likely based on moldings shown in Palladio’s Four Books. (Figure 5)
Figure 6. James Stuart & Nicholas Revett, The Antiquities of Athens, Vol. 1, 1762, Chapter II, Plate VI (detail).

Figure 6. James Stuart & Nicholas Revett, The Antiquities of Athens, Vol. 1, 1762, Chapter II, Plate VI (detail).















Britons were introduced to the elegance and complexity of Greek moldings with the appearance in 1762 of the first volume of Stuart and Revett’s The Antiquities of Athens. This monumental undertaking, with its numerous engravings of plans, elevations, details, and conjectural restorations, made an indelible impression on the British architectural community and marked the birth of the Greek Revival movement. Pictured in the first volume were several plates pertaining to the Ionic temple on the Ilissus River in Athens.[2]  In a detail of the temple’s capital and entablature, the abacus has the profile of a quirked ovolo instead of the straight-sided slab typical of Roman orders. (Figure 6) A quirked ovolo is an ovolo that takes the form of an ellipse and turns inward towards the top, leaving a small space between it and the member above it. Since the curve of an ellipse is complex, requiring several radii to define it, it can take many different profiles from boldly curved to tightly compressed. Another quirked ovolo is seen supporting the taenia.

Robert Adam was among the first British architects to incorporate Greek moldings and other Grecian details in his designs. In Volume I of The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam, Esquires (1778) Adam stated his partiality for Greek moldings.

The mouldings in the remaining structures of antient Rome are considerably less curvelineal than those of antient monuments of Greece. We have always given preference to the latter, and have even thought it adviseable to bend them still more in many cases, particularly in interior furnishings, where objects are near, and ought to be softened to the eye. . . [3]

Figure 7. Robert and James Adam, The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam, Esquires, Vol. 1, plate 59 (detail).

Figure 7. Robert and James Adam, The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam, Esquires, Vol. 1, plate 59 (detail).
















Adam employed a personalized Greek Ionic order for the exterior of London’s Lansdowne House. The detail of the order shown here is dated 1765 and was published in Adam’s Works in 1778. (Figure 7) While the abacus follows Greek precedent by being an ovolo rather than a straight-edged slab, its profile is a Roman-style ovolo. The moldings separating the frieze from  the architrave, however, incorporate what is definitely a Greek quirked ovolo supporting a fillet. The source for Adam’s Greek details was likely The Antiquities of Athens.  He also derived Greek details from engravings by Giovanni Piranesi, who published prints of Greek Ionic capitals copied from Julien-David Le Roy’s Ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grèce (1758). Piranesi worked with Adam for a time, executing some of the engravings for Works.
Figure 8. Asher Benjamin, The American Builder’s Companion (1806) plate 15.

Figure 8. Asher Benjamin, The American Builder’s Companion (1806) plate 15.















Boston architect Asher Benjamin can be credited with being America’s earliest and most energetic promoter of Greek classicism. In the 1806 first edition of The American Builder’s Companion, Benjamin offered an interestingly curious illustration to demonstrate the visual superiority of a cornice of Greek moldings over Roman moldings. (Figure 8) He elucidates as follows:

A is a Tuscan cornice copied from Langley, [A is the dotted line] and seen at an angle of forty five degrees from the horizon, (Fig. 2) which is the angle cornices are commonly seen at. B is a modern cornice, which is only two thirds of the height. This experiment proves, that a cornice, when seen at the angle of forty five degrees, may be diminished one third of its height, and appear to the spectator to be diminished only two elevenths; and when seen at an angle of fifty degrees, (Fig. 3) which is a little nearer to the building, it may be diminished one third, and appear to be diminished one sixth . . . which will make a saving of at least one fourth of the expense, beside having so much of the height of the wall of the whole building, and at the same time have a lighter and better appearance.[4]

 Referring to Fig. 4 on that same plate, Benjamin writes:

A [the solid-line molding] is an ovolo, or quarter round, which is commonly used in the orders. The figure shows the advantage of quirked mouldings. Beside looking better, their size may be increased one third without increasing their height, as seen by B [left dotted line] ; or their height may be diminished one third, without appearing much less, as seen by C.[right dotted line][5]

Figure 9. Asher Benjamin, The American Builder’s Companion (Sixth edition, 1827), Plate I I [eleven] (detail).

Figure 9. Asher Benjamin, The American Builder’s Companion (Sixth edition, 1827), Plate I I [eleven] (detail).












In Plate eleven of the 1827 edition of The American Builder’s Companion, Benjamin illustrated several examples of quirked ovolos. (Figure 9) He noted that the molding can be part of an ellipse or a parabola. Benjamin praised Greek design ingenuity, stating:

In the Roman ovolo there is no turning inward, at the top; therefore, when the sun shines on its surface, it will not be so bright, on its upper edge, as the Grecian ovolo; nor will it cause so beautiful a line of distinction from the other moldings, with which it is combined, when it is in shadow, and when lighted by reflection.[6]

The various radii making up each molding in Benjamin’s plate are seen in the dotted lines and reveal the complex sophistication of Greek moldings.

Figure 10. Greek moldings, Tennessee State Capitol, Nashville (Loth).

Figure 10. Greek moldings, Tennessee State Capitol, Nashville (Loth).










William Strickland made use of quirked ovolos on the interior of the Tennessee State Capitol (completed 1859), one of the nation’s premiere examples of Greek Revival architecture. The stone piers supporting the vaults in one of the ground-floor committee rooms are topped with sharp, finely cut ovolos. The quirk forms the dark line above the ovolos and lends definition to the composition. (Figure 10)
Figure 11. The Rules of Work of the Carpenters’ Company of the City and County of Philadelphia (1786) Plate XVI.

Figure 11. The Rules of Work of the Carpenters’ Company of the City and County of Philadelphia (1786) Plate XVI.











Figure 12. James Newlands, The Carpenter’s Assistant (London, undated: ca. 1850) plate LXV (detail).

Figure 12. James Newlands, The Carpenter’s Assistant (London, undated: ca. 1850) plate LXV (detail).







We can see the change in treatment of panel moldings from the 18th century to the 19th century by comparing a plate in the in the 1786 Philadelphia Carpenters’ Company Rule Book with one in James Newlands’ The Carpenter’s Assistant, (Figures 11 & 12) Though Newlands’ work is British, his illustrations are consistent with American practice starting in the early 19th century. In the Carpenters’ Company illustration, we see how typical Roman-style panel moldings are cut from the rails and stiles and that the fielded panels are sharply beveled on one face or both. Newlands’ moldings employ Greek quirked ovolos. Instead of being part of the rails and stiles, his moldings are separate members applied over the junction of the panels with the rails and stiles. Note too, the panels are not beveled. This change in panel treatment, employing applied moldings, became almost universal throughout the country in the 19th century.
Figure 13. Door jamb panel, Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind, Staunton, Virginia (Loth).

Figure 13. Door jamb panel, Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind, Staunton, Virginia (Loth).













An example of applied panel moldings is seen in a door jamb at the 1846 Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind, designed by Baltimore architect Robert Cary Long, Jr. Here, however, the panel moldings are a simple flattened Greek cavetto. Note the lack of beveling in the border of the panel field. (Figure 13)
Figure 14. Mantel detail, Annandale, Buckingham County, Virginia (Virginia Department of Historic Resources).

Figure 14. Mantel detail, Annandale, Buckingham County, Virginia (Virginia Department of Historic Resources).
















The vigorous beauty of Greek moldings is evident in the mantel shelf of Annandale, an 1840s farmhouse in central Virginia.  The sharp edges of the quirked ovolos in the shelf board and bed moldings are typical of the period. Such profiles required carpenters to acquire special blades for their planes. (Figure 14)
Figure 15. Mantel detail, Glen Maury, Buena Vista, Virginia (Loth).

Figure 15. Mantel detail, Glen Maury, Buena Vista, Virginia (Loth).














Figure 16. Minard Lafever, The Modern Builder’s Guide (1833) Plate 53.

Figure 16. Minard Lafever, The Modern Builder’s Guide (1833) Plate 53.














In some rural Greek Revival houses it is not unusual to see an assertive series of sharply projecting quirked ovolos forming a mantel’s bed moldings. A characteristic example of this ambitious treatment is found in Glen Maury, an 1831 plantation house in Buena Vista, Virginia. (Figure 15) Although it’s tempting to assume this is the product of a craftsman’s overzealous imagination, it’s more likely that these moldings were inspired by illustrations of arrises found below the echinus on the typical Greek Doric capital. We see these arrises on a detail of the Doric order published by the New York architect Minard Lafever in The Modern Builder’s Guide (1833), one of many American design books promoting the Grecian style. (Figure 16) In his preface, Lafever acknowledged his source: “Messrs. Stuart and Revett of London; from whose highly valuable and popular work entitled ‘The Antiquities of Athens,’ I have borrowed the article relating to the ancient Orders of Architecture.”[7]

Although Greek moldings continued in use into the third quarter of the 19th century, they soon passed out of fashion in favor of more complex Italianate and Gothic-style moldings. They all but disappeared from use in the early 20th century with the widespread popularity of the Colonial Revival movement, which brought about a resurgence of Roman moldings imitating 18th-century practice. Nevertheless, following Asher Benjamin’s observations, we should not discount the value of Greek moldings for adding a distinctive aesthetic quality to contemporary classical design.

[1] Partricia Ann Lowe, Volumes that Speak: The Architectural Books of Drayton Library Catalog and the Design of Drayton Hall (Clemson University and the College of Charleston Master’s Thesis. May, 2010).
The tiny temple has since been destroyed.
Robert and James Adam, The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam; (Dover Publications, 2006) p. 6.
Asher Benjamin, The American Builder’s Companion (Boston, 1806) p. 29.
Benjamin, p. 29.
Benjamin, The American Builder’s Companion (sixth edition; Boston, 1827) p. 20.
Minard Lafever, The Modern Builder’s Guide, p. 3-4.





Classical Comments: The Diocletian Window (By Calder Loth – ICAA)

calder-loth-imgBy Calder Loth
Senior Architectural Historian for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and a member of the
Institute of Classical Classical Architecture & Art‘s Advisory Council.

Courtesy of: the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art

Dedicated in 306 A.D., the Baths of Diocletian survive as Rome’s only relatively intact ancient bath structure. Its main space, the vast vaulted frigidarium,[i] was preserved by conversion to a church under the direction of Michelangelo in 1563-64.[ii] A distinctive feature of the frigidarium is the series of huge windows along the upper tier of its side walls. (Figure 1) The window form consists of a large semi-circular arch divided into three sections by two thick vertical mullions.[iii] Because of their association with this structure, windows in this configuration are termed Diocletian windows, but we also describe them as thermal windows from thermae, the Latin word for warm bath. The windows’ brick construction was originally veneered with stone moldings and decorations of which only fragments remain in situ. Nevertheless, the form appealed to Renaissance architects who popularized it through treatises and projects. As we see in the following survey, architects have interpreted and applied the Diocletian window in a variety of ways over the past four and a half centuries.


Figure 1. The Baths of Diocletian, Rome (Loth)


Figure 2. Villa Foscari, Italy (Loth)

Andrea Palladio undertook detailed studies of Roman bath ruins with the intention of producing a book on the subject. His project never materialized but various features observed in the ruins found their way into several of Palladio’s designs.[iv] The Diocletian window appears in three of Palladio’s villa elevations published in Book II of I Quattro Libri (1570). Perhaps Palladio’s most prominent Diocletian window dominates the rear elevation of the ca. 1560 Villa Foscari, also known as La Malcontenta. (Figure 2) We have no published drawing of the rear; Palladio’s treatise illustrates only the villa’s portioced façade. Nevertheless, like the ancient prototype, the villa’s huge window is reduced to essentials. Its only ornament is the rustication joints scribed into the stucco.


Figure 3. San Moisè, Venice (Loth)

Palladio set a precedent for incorporating a Diocletian window into the façades of Venetian churches with his designs for San Francesco della Vigna (1566-70) and S. Maria della Presentazione, also known as Le Zitelle, (1577-80).  Palladio also incorporated Diocletian windows in the clerestory of Il Redentore (consecrated 1592). The tradition extended to several later Venetian churches including the façade added in 1688 by Alessandro Tremignon to the church of San Moisè, perhaps the most luscious Baroque façade in Venice. (Figure 3) Though hardly small, the Diocletian window above the entrance is almost overwhelmed by its Baroque encrustations. The window itself is set well back from the heavily decorated arch and mullions. With its sculptures by Heinrich Meyring, the façade is a monument to the Fini family, its patrons.


Figure 4. Gibbs Building, King’s College Cambridge: James Gibbs, A Book of Architecture (1728), plate 34.

In 1724, architect James Gibbs received the commission to design a complex of buildings for the front court of King’s College, Cambridge. Of the three massive structures in Gibbs’s scheme only the West Range, built 1724-31, was realized. For the central pavilions of each front, Gibbs proposed a broad Diocletian window atop a Doric aedicule framing the entrance arch. (Figure 4) This composition closely followed Palladio’s final design for the Villa Pisani at Bagnolo shown in Book II of I Quattro Libri.[v] As illustrated in Gibbs’s A Book of Architecture (1728), Gibbs intended the pediment slopes of the King’s building to be adorned with statues of reclining scholars in the manner of the figures on Michelangelo’s Medici tombs. The sculptures were never realized. Gibbs proposed a similar combination Diocletian window and portico for Whitton Place, Middlesex, but his design was rejected in favor of a design by Roger Morris.[vi]


Figure 5. Chiswick, London (Loth)

Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, was the primary leader of England’s 18th-century Anglo-Palladian movement. His passion for the architecture of Andrea Palladio and his contemporaries inspired his design for his villa at Chiswick. (Figure 5) Completed in 1729, the compact structure exhibited in its forms and details Lord Burlington’s broad knowledge of Palladian architecture. Burlington crowned his house with an octagonal dome prominently fitted with Diocletian windows on its four main faces. The use of this motif was likely inspired by one of Palladio’s early schemes for the Villa Pisani at Bagnolo, the drawing for which was among Burlington’s large collection of original Palladian drawings. (Figure 6) The stair and inset Palladian window in the drawing are features also reflected in Chiswick.


Figure 6. Andrea Palladio, Preliminary design for the Villa Pisani at Bagnolo; pen and brown ink drawing, ca. 1542. (Royal Institute of British Architects)


Figure 7. Mount Clare, Baltimore (Loth)

The lunette in the pediment of Baltimore’s Mount Clare is among America’s very rare Colonial-era versions of the Diocletian window. (Figure 7) Unlike the more standard half-circle examples, Mount Clare’s window is a shallow segment supported with the requisite pair of vertical mullions to give it the thermal form. The voids between the mullions are backed with small window panes. Mount Clare was erected in 1760 as a villa with an extensive park and terraced garden for Charles Carroll, a prominent Maryland patriot. As seen in the illustration, the house walls are laid in header bond, a characteristic feature of the finest colonial Maryland dwellings.


Figure 8. Faneuil Hall, Boston (Loth)

The Diocletian window enjoyed increased though limited popularity during the Early Republic. Boston architect Charles Bulfinch installed them in a handful of his buildings, including his 1805 expansion of the 1742 Faneuil Hall in the heart of Boston. (Figure 8) Bulfinch’s remodeling  involved increasing the original three-bay façade to seven bays and adding the tall third story. To accent the resulting vast pediment, Bulfinch inserted a Diocletian window flanked by two circular windows. Bulfinch gave prominence to the somewhat diminutive Diocletian window by framing it in a broad curved architrave, a trick he used in other designs and one that works effectively in this prodigious structure.


Figure 9. Former Bourse, St. Petersburg, Russia (Loth)

Architect Thomas de Thomon used the Diocletian window with dramatic flair in the attic gable of the St. Petersburg Bourse (Stock Exchange), a monumental landmark on the prow of Vlasilyevsky’s Island, across the Neva from the Winter Palace. (Figure 9) A multiplicity of thin voussoirs forming the arch gives the window the effect of a radiant sun rising from the portico. Partly hiding it, however, is S. Sukhanov’s sculpture group of Neptune with Two Rivers.  Surrounding the building is a peristyle of forty-two unfluted Greek Doric columns, an echo of Paestum. The strategically sited structure served as the center of financial and trade operations for Imperial Russia. Since 1940, the building has housed the Central Naval Museum.


Figure 10. Imperial Stables and Carriage House, Pushkin, Russia (Loth)

We see a more lighthearted use of Diocletian windows on the Imperial stables in Pushkin (formerly Tsarskoye Selo), the suburban town of palaces and parks south of St. Petersburg. (Figure 10) Rendered in Russia’s virile Neoclassical style, the 1820 stable complex was designed by Vasily Stasov and Smaragd Shustov. Here a series of windows punctuates the façade of the stable courtyard. Setting off each window is a thick, plain lintel painted white to contrast with the tan stucco. The curved lintels reflect the semi-circular plan of the courtyard. The battered doorway and keystone focus attention on the center window. Vasily Stasov is best known as the architect of the Winter Palace staterooms, rebuilt after the fire of 1837.


Figure 11. Fireproof Building, Charleston, South Carolina (Loth)

Architect Robert Mills incorporated a Diocletian window in the Meeting Street elevation of the Fireproof Building, constructed 1820-27 as a state office building. (Figure 11) It quickly became known as the Fireproof Building because of its pioneering use of non-combustible materials to protect government records. Though he was a dedicated classicist, Mills used the Diocletian motif in only a few instances. His mentor, Thomas Jefferson, interestingly, applied the motif to none his buildings. In the Fireproof Building, Mills tied the window into a composition embracing the three-part window below. Accenting it is a decorative iron railing, giving a lightness to an otherwise visually solid structure.


Figure 12. Low Memorial Library, Columbia University, New York City (Loth)

The firm of McKim, Mead & White made use of the Diocletian window in a variety of forms in numerous projects. In two of the firm’s most monumental works: Pennsylvania Station (1906-10; demolished 1964) and Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library (1893-95), the widows were of such huge scale that they were divided by four vertical mullions rather than the more standard two. (Figure 12) The use of four mullions at Low Library may have been dictated by the fact that the mullions are metal rather than thick masonry.  Nevertheless, with the window panes set in Roman lattice, the broad composition has a gracefulness despite its size.


Figure 13. Bavarian State Chancellery, Munich, Germany (Loth)

The heavy classicism of Imperial Germany, known as the Wilhelmine style, is boldly exhibited in the central domed section of what is now the Bavarian State Chancellery in Munich. (Figure 13) At the base of the dome is a pedimented pavilion framing a rusticated Diocletian window, a weighty contrast to the window in the Natural History Museum shown below. Designed by Ludwig Mellinger, the building’s center section is all that remained of the 1905 Bavarian Army Museum following the Allied bombing in World War II.  The destroyed wings were rebuilt in 1992 in glassy greenhouse style to house the state legislature and government offices.


Figure 14. Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C. (Loth)

The firm of Hornblower and Marshall provided our National Mall with a classic Diocletian window set in the open tympanum pediment of the Natural History Museum, built 1901-11. (Figure 14) The allusion to classical Antiquity is reinforced by the use of bronze Roman lattice in the openings. Executed in white granite, the window’s plain architrave frame and vertical mullions lend the composition a restrained monumentality. Below the window is a hexastyle colonnade employing the Corinthian order of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the three columns of which survive in the Roman Forum. The museum’s pediment and window is one of four identically treated pediments providing buttressing for the dome of this monument of the American Renaissance.


Figure 15. Memorial Gymnasium, University of Virginia, Charlottesville (Loth)

The ancient Roman baths provided excellent precedents for enormous formal enclosures such as railroad stations and gymnasiums. We see this in the University of Virginia’s Memorial Gymnasium, whose form was inspired by the Baths of Diocletian. (Figure 15) Completed in 1924, the design was the product of an architectural commission with Fiske Kimball, founder of the university’s school of architecture, serving as supervising architect. As with the Diocletian bath’s frigidarium, Memorial Gymnasium’s side elevations are composed of a series of gables supporting huge Diocletian windows. The gymnasium’s brick construction reflects the brick walls of the Roman baths, stripped of their stone veneers.


Figure 16. Brooks Brothers Store, Beverly Hills, California (Loth)

[i] The frigidarium was the main space in the bath complex. It was so termed because it contained a series of pools for cold baths.
The church name is the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri. It was further embellished by architect Luigi Vanvitelli in 1749.
The bottoms of the arches, where the curve meets the lintel, have been infilled with masonry for extra support, giving the arch a slightly stilted look.
Palladio’s drawings of the baths were eventually published by Lord Burlington in 1730, and by Charles Cameron in 1772.
The portico proposed for the Villa Pisani was not built but the Diocletian window is intact.
Terry Friedman, James Gibbs (Yale University Press, 1984), p. 317.

Classical Comments: Alternating Pediments (By Calder Loth – ICAA)

calder-loth-imgBy Calder Loth
Senior Architectural Historian for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and a member of the
Institute of Classical Classical Architecture & Art‘s Advisory Council.

Courtesy of: the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art

A perusal of classical facades from ancient times to modern reveals a persistent use of alternating triangular and segmental pediments for topping openings and other architectural features. What is the rationale for this convention? Written discussion of alternating pediments is almost non-existent, thus we might surmise that it was an innately understood device for instilling an interesting visual rhythm to a series of bays or openings. A row of continuous triangular pediments is visually static. Alternating triangular pediments with curved-top ones provides visual lilt and encourages the eye to skip from one end of a facade to the other. Even when a structure has only three bays, alternating their pediment shapes makes a facade livelier than if all three pediments were treated the same.


Figure 1. Temple of Vespasian, Pompeii (Loth)

The courtyard of the Temple to Vespasian in the ruins of Pompeii offers a telling image of the ancient Roman application of alternating triangular and segmental pediments.[i] (Figure 1) Constructed after the earthquake of 62 AD, the bare brick pediments and frames of these blind openings likely served as foundations onto which more fully modeled stuccoed moldings and other ornaments were applied. Such decorative enhancement would have been obliterated in the fallout from the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Nevertheless, the denuded elements provide us with an early ancient use of this treatment for pediments. The architectural remains at Pompeii would have been unknown to Renaissance architects since systematic excavations and study of Pompeii were not undertaken until the 18th century.


Figure 2. Great Court side wall, Baalbek, Lebanon (Loth)

Constructed during the reign of the Emperor Trajan, the Great Court of the Temple of Jupiter in the magnificent ruins of Baalbek also preserve examples of alternating pediments. The court’s side walls are embellished with aedicules that presumably held images of deities. (Figure 2) The figures are long gone as are the columns that provided visual support for the surviving pediments. Anchored to the wall, the remaining alternating pediments are sophisticated works of Roman design. Each of the pediments breaks in the middle, with the center portion of each being recessed. Such details may have provided inspiration for Georgian-period designs through Robert Wood’s richly illustrated Ruins of Balbec, Otherwise Heliopolis in Coelosyria (1757).


Figure 3. “Temple of Jupiter,” I Quattro Libri, (Tavenor & Schofield Translation, 2002) Book IV, p. 43.

Andrea Palladio’s Book IV of I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (1570) is filled with Palladio’s conjectural reconstruction drawings of Roman temples, an invaluable record of many structures that have since been lost. Although alternating triangular and segmental pediments became a standard treatment for openings on many Renaissance buildings, few examples are shown in Quattro Libri’s Book IV, and indeed few if any ancient examples survive in Rome. However, we see aedicules with alternating pediments on the courtyard walls of Palladio’s reconstruction drawings in Book IV of what he named the Temple of Jupiter. Scholars have now identified this temple as the Temple of Serapis, built by the Emperor Caracalla on the Quirinale Hill.[ii] (Figure 3) The ruins were destroyed in 1615; we know the temple and its pediments only through Palladio’s images.


Figure 4. Palazzo Chiericati, Vicenza, Italy (Loth)

Palladio applied alternating pediments in several of his own works including the Palazzo Civena, the Palazzo Thiene, the Palazzo da Porto, the Palazzo Barbarano, the Palazzo Porto-Breganze, and the Teatro Olimpico, all in Vicenza. He undoubtedly learned the device through his detailed study of Roman ruins, such as the temple discussed above, as well as through his observations of works of other Renaissance architects. What is perhaps Palladio’s most conspicuous and elegant application of alternating pediments highlights the center section of Vicenza’s Palazzo Chiericati, begun in 1551 and completed in stages. (Figure 4) Here Palladio placed reclining figures on each slope of the pediments, recalling Michelangelo’s use of such figures albeit more emphatic ones, on the Medici tombs. Palladio installed similar lounging figures on the pediments of the Palazzo Barbarano.


Figure 5. Design for Palazzo Cornaro, The Idea of a Universal Architecture (Architectura & Natura Press, edition, 2003) Vol . III, p. 87 (detail)

Palladio’s protégé, Vincenzo Scamozzi, continued his mentor’s tradition of alternating pediments in his designs for buildings both in Vicenza and Venice. Many of these projects, built and unbuilt, were published in Scamozzi’s treatise, L’Idea della Architettura Universale (1615). One of his more ambitious schemes was for a prodigious palace for Cardinal Federico Cornaro on Venice’s Grand Canal. (Figure 5) Scamozzi’s published elevation in L’Idea displays the top-floor windows framed by aedicules with alternating pediments. As with the Palazzo Chiericati, several of the pediments sport reclining figures. Although the construction of Cardinal Coronaro’s palace never commenced, the design for this and other works in the treatise subsequently influenced architects elsewhere in Europe, especially the Netherlands and Britain.


Figure 6. Banqueting House, Whitehall, London (Loth)

Inigo Jones is credited with introducing Palladio’s and Scamozzi’s versions of the Italian Renaissance mode to Britain. Jones traveled in Italy in 1612-13 where he visited many of Palladio’s buildings and met Scamozzi. He also acquired a copy of Scamozzi’s L’Idea della Architettura Universale.[iii] Jones was appointed Surveyor of the King’s Works in 1615, in which capacity he built several important royal commissions including the Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace in 1619-22. (Figure 6) With its unadulterated Italian character, the Banqueting House launched the first phase of Britain’s Anglo-Palladian movement. Following the precedent of Palladio and Scamozzi, Jones treated the windows of the Banqueting House main level with alternating pediments, some of the first of many to come throughout Britain.


Figure 7. Senate House, Cambridge University (Loth)

Architect James Gibbs was one of Britain’s most influential 18th-century practitioners of the Anglo-Palladian style. Gibbs popularized Palladio’s classical mode not only with his many finely composed buildings but through his two publications: Book of Architecture (1728) and Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture (1732), both of which served as guides for architects and builders throughout the British Isles and the American colonies. A rich but well-modulated example of Gibbs’s works is the Senate House at Cambridge University, built 1721-30. (Figure 7) As in many of his designs, Gibbs employed alternating pediments for its windows. He departed from convention here by placing the pedimented windows on the ground level with arched windows above. This treatment was probably dictated by the fact that the building has no podium and its interior is a single large room. Hence there is no piano nobile as in more academic classical buildings.


Figure 8. Drayton Hall, South Carolina (Loth)


Figure 9. Plate 38, Designs of Inigo Jones with some Additional Designs

The three second-story windows in the river front of the ca. 1740 Drayton Hall may well be America’s earliest use of alternating pediments and aedicule window frames.[iv] (Figure 8) John Drayton, for whom Drayton Hall was built, owned several British design books, including Vitruvius Britannicus, which illustrates numerous country houses with alternating pediments. However, the use of just three bays with alternating pediments closely resembles a scheme on Plate 38 in Designs of Inigo Jones with some Additional Designs (1727), edited by William Kent. (Figure 9) John Drayton did not own this tome but an illustration for a chimneypiece in this book definitely served as the basis for the chimneypiece in Drayton Hall’s great hall. John Drayton, however, did own James Gibbs’s Book of Architecture (1728), which illustrates individual pedimented Ionic aedicules closely paralleling those at Drayton. While academically correct from a design standpoint, the three windows are somewhat awkwardly placed, particularly the center one, which perches precariously on the tip of pediment below.


Figure 10. Southwest courtyard, Palace of Caserta, Caserta Italy (Loth)

When alternating pediments are employed on a multi-story building, it is usual to have only one level of openings so treated. Upper-level openings either have no pediments or have a row of windows with consistently triangular pediments as in Rome’s Palazzo Farnese. We can only speculate that the reason for this is that more than one level of alternating pediments would make for an overly busy composition. Caserta, the great country palace of the Kings of Naples, built 1752-1780, offers an exception. (Figure 10) The widows on the exterior elevations and in the four huge courtyards are enriched with alternating pediments on two levels. Architect Luigi Vanvitelli was clever enough to stagger the pediments so that the triangular and segmental pediments alternate vertically as well as horizontally. The lively treatment is countered by the palace’s gigantic scale. (Note the scale figure in the photograph.)


Figure 11. Brick Market, Newport, Rhode Island (Loth)

Among the most academic of our colonial-period structures is the 1762 Brick Market in Newport, Rhode Island designed by Peter Harrison, one of the earliest professional architects to work in America. The market’s main level is set off by windows with alternating pediments. (Figure 11) The windows are enhanced with pulvinated friezes and eared architraves. Architectural Historian William H. Pierson maintained that the market’s design was modeled after a now lost gallery of London’s Somerset House, a work attributed to Inigo Jones and illustrated in Colen Campbell’s Vitruvius Britannicus (Vol. 1, Plate 16, 1715). [v] Like the market, the Somerset House design has an arcaded ground floor with windows above framed by pilasters and topped with alternating pediments. Newport’s Brick Market may be the country’s only colonial-period public building to have alternating pediments.


Figure 12. White House, Washington, D.C. (Loth)

America’s most famous display of alternating pediments is, of course, on the White House where the pediments highlight the first-floor windows on both the north and south fronts. (Figure 12) An outstanding example of the Anglo-Palladian style, the White House exhibits the influence of James Gibbs’s designs, but more directly was inspired by Leinster House, the Dublin mansion erected 1745-48 for the Duke of Leinster, and now seat of the Irish Parliament. Designed by Richard Cassels, Leinster House likewise has alternating pediments decorating its windows. James Hoban, architect of the White House, was an Irish native trained in Dublin, and was well acquainted with Leinster house.[vi] Hoban’s White House scheme won the design competition for the President’s House as it was the personal favorite of George Washington.[vii] Our twenty-dollar bills have offered millions of immediately accessible images of the White House and its pediments.


Figure 13. Aile Napoleon, Louvre, Paris (Loth)

An arresting but frequently overlooked use of alternation pediments enlivens the Aile Napoleon (also the Galerie Nord), a wing of the Louvre, now housing the Musée des Arts Decoratifs. Following his becoming First Counsel in 1799, Napoleon determined to achieve the long-standing ambition to connect the Louvre with the north end of the Tuileries Palace, and commissioned architects Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine to design the connector. For its south elevation, the architects chose to mirror the ca. 1600 facade of the Grand Galerie on the opposite side of the courtyard. Like the Grand Galerie, Percier and Fontaine’s facade was marked by an imposing progression of alternating triangular and segmental pedimented pavilions with each pediment supported on paired Composite pilasters. (Figure 13) The seven westernmost pavilions of the original thirteen sections of the Aile Napoleon were destroyed when the Tuileries was burned during the Commune of 1870, and were rebuilt to a different design. Moreover, the original Grand Galerie facade was lost in the 1860s when refaced with a different scheme by Hector-Martin Lefuel.


Figure 14. Leuchtenberg Palace, Munich, Germany (Loth)

Leo von Klenze’s Leuchtenberg Palace in Munich is instructive for illustrating the effect created by avoiding alternating pediments. Although the palace is a dignified adaptation of the Renaissance mode, one inspired by the Palazzo Farnese and other Roman palaces, von Klenze shunned the time-tested device of alternating pediments for the palace’s middle level windows. (Figure 14) As a result, the continuous row of triangular pediments is monotonous. It gives the facade a static appearance instead of one with the lively rhythm that alternating pediments could provide. Nevertheless, von Klenze’s design launched the Neo-Renaissance movement in 19th-century Germany. The palace was completed in 1816 for Napoleon’s stepson, Eugene de Beauharnais, who married into the Bavarian royal family and was created Duke of Leuchtenberg.


Figure 15. National Building Museum, Washington, D.C. (Loth)

Originally built as the Pension Building, Washington, D.C.’s National Building Museum, completed in 1887, is an awesome if not unique Victorian interpretation of the Italian Renaissance style. Army architect/engineer Montgomery Meigs took Rome’s Palazzo Farnese for inspiration but translated its form in bright red pressed brick and terra cotta, and gave it a facade of twenty-seven bays instead of the Farnese’s thirteen. (Figure 15) Nevertheless, Meigs was faithful to the model in his application of aedicules with alternating pediments for the mid-level windows. He strayed somewhat from the Farnese in his use of the Ionic order here instead of the Corinthian. Yet, true to his model, he maintained consistent triangular pediments for the top floor as did Michelangelo, who added the top story to Antonio da Sangallo’s lower two floors of the Farnese. Meigs’s alternating pediments indeed keep the eye bouncing down all twenty-seven bays.


Figure 16. Otto Kahn Mansion, New York City (Loth)

Alternating triangular and segmental pediments appear infrequently on 20th-century American buildings. The firm of McKim, Mead & White illustrated only a handful of examples in the voluminous monograph of their works. We see scant use of alternating pediments in the buildings of such notables as Carrère & Hastings, John Russell Pope, and Horace Trumbauer. A notable exception to this trend is the fabled mansion of the banker and philanthropist Otto Kahn in the Carnegie Hill neighborhood of New York City. (Figure 16) Designed by the British architect J. Armstrong Stenhouse, with New York’s C.P.H. Gilbert as associate, the main elevations are modeled after the ca. 1500 Palazzo Cancelleria in Rome, which, interestingly, does not have pediments on its windows. The pediments on the Kahn mansion add visual relief to the otherwise seriously Renaissance-style edifice.

Alternating pediments are a useful device for any classical-style building and can enliven an otherwise sober elevation. We would hope to see them used from time to time on 21-century works. I am not aware of recent examples of alternating pediments would appreciate learning of any.

[i] The temple complex is believed to have been originally been dedicated to the Genius of Augustus.
Andrea Palladio, The Four Books on Architecture, Translated by Robert Tavenor and Richard Schofield (MIT Press, 2002) p. 373.
Patti Garvin, Koen Ottenheym, Wilbert Vroom, Vincenzo Scamozzi, The Idea of a Universal Architecture. Volume VI, (Architectura & Natura Press, Amsterdam, 2008), p. 26.
I am indebted to Ralph Muldrow for making this observation.
William H. Pearson, Jr., American Architects and Their Builders; The Colonial and Neo-Classical Styles (Doubleday and Company, 1970) pp. 148-49.
Hoban was trained in Dublin where he received the Duke of Leinster’s medal for drawing from the Dublin Society in 1780.
Like Leinster House, the White House originally was built with an engaged Ionic portico on the north elevation. The present portico was added in 1829.

Take a look at our Decorative Pediments, Combinations, and additional Entryway Systems at:

Classical Comments: Monumental Church (By Calder Loth – ICAA)

calder-loth-imgBy Calder Loth
Senior Architectural Historian for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and a member of the
Institute of Classical Classical Architecture & Art‘s Advisory Council.

Courtesy of: the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art


Figure 1. Monumental Church, Richmond, Virginia (Loth)

For this month’s Classical Comments essay, I am departing from the usual pattern of discussing a specific architectural feature or type and am devoting the space to a single building. I have selected Richmond’s Monumental Church not to promote an important historic landmark, but to explore the circumstances that can affect a building’s form and character. Monumental Church is also an excellent example for illustrating the use of symbolism to make a work of architecture meaningful. Too often we fail to appreciate the existence of the amazing repertoire of traditional symbols that we can draw from to lend expression and instruction to a design.

Monumental Church owes its existence to a tragedy. On the evening of December 26, 1811, many members of Richmond’s society were attending a performance in a theater originally on the site. A fire broke out in the second act, destroying the theater and killing seventy-two of the audience, including the Governor. Shock at the loss of life moved Richmond citizens to plan a suitable memorial. Following two days of mourning, the citizens of Richmond and the state resolved to erect a church on the theater site as a permanent functioning monument to the calamity. The competition for the design was won by the thirty-one-year-old Robert Mills, who was then employed in the Philadelphia office of Benjamin Henry Latrobe.


Figure 2. Monumental Church, William Goodacre engraving, 1812 (Virginia Historical Society)

Prior to working for Latrobe, Mills’ architectural proficiency had been shaped by two mentors: James Hoban and Thomas Jefferson. Mills became an apprentice to Hoban while Hoban was overseeing the construction of the White House. More significantly, Mills served as a draftsman for Jefferson, producing ink-and-watercolor drawings of Monticello and a rotunda house for him around 1803. During that time, Mills had access to Jefferson’s extensive architectural library. Unfortunately, Mills’ drawings for Monumental Church do not survive, but we have a record of the ambitious original concept in an 1812 engraving by William Goodacre. (Figure 2) The Goodacre image shows a domed auditorium church fronted by a porch-like portico surmounted by a sculpted figure of mourning. An elaborate, multi-tier steeple rises from the rear of the church. The steeple and the portico sculpture were eliminated from the final design.

As built, the church, nevertheless, can only be described as Avant-guard—a structure unlike anything ever before seen in Virginia, much less the rest of the country. In many ways, it is a synthesis of ideas learned from both Jefferson and Latrobe. From Jefferson, Mills gained an appreciation for domes and octagons, forms that intrigued Jefferson and informed many of his designs. Monumental Church’s saucer dome employs the de L’Orme construction method, which consists of laminated wooden ribs, a system that Jefferson used on both Monticello and the Rotunda at University of Virginia.[i] From Latrobe, Mills was introduced to the use of the newly fashionable Greek orders and details, as well as to non-canonical interpretations of classical moldings, primarily thin Grecian-type moldings in the inventive style of Sir John Soane.


Figure 3. Monumental Church portico (Loth)

Completed in 1814, the building has two distinct sections: the memorial and the church. The memorial is the front portico, expressed as a square shrine-like porch or reliquary sheltering the marble monument to those lost in the fire. The building’s main portion, the domed octagon, is the church, with side entrances framed by diastyle porticos.[ii] Instead of the sculpture shown in the Goodacre engraving, Mills applied a simple pediment defined by thin moldings on the raking angles and acroteria or “ears” at the ends. A long shallow panel is the only decoration in the tympanum. (Figure 3) With its ears, the pediment (and also the window lintels), echoes the form of the lids of Roman and Greek cinerary boxes, or containers for cremated remains. This form is more explicitly used on the interior as we shall see.


Figure 4. Doric of the Temple of Apollo at Delos, The Antiquities of Athens, Vol. III: Chapter X, Plate 1


Figure 5. Portico columns, Monumental Church (Loth)

The order used for the columns of the front and side porticos is based on the Doric of the Temple of Apollo on the Island of Delos as shown in Volume III of Stuart and Revett’s The Antiquities of Athens (1795).[iii] This order’s distinguishing feature is the column’s smooth shaft, with fluting employed in short sections at top and bottom. Stuart and Revett conjectured that the main part of the shaft was left plain because it was covered with tapestry during ceremonies. (Figures 4 & 5) Most authorities now believe that the columns were simply unfinished, and that full fluting of the shaft was intended but never accomplished. Nevertheless, the distinctive appearance of the columns has inspired countless imitations on Greek Revival buildings.[iv] We might speculate that the unfinished character of the columns on Monumental Church may have been an intended reference to the unfinished lives of those who perished in the fire.


Figure 6. Portico frieze detail, Monumental Church (Loth)

The church’s theme of mourning is continued in the portico frieze through the series of bas-reliefs of lachrymatory urns. (Figure 6) These are representations of the small glass vessels usually found in ancient Greek and Roman tombs, vessels into which mourners dropped their tears. The term derives from licrima, the Latin word for tear. Lachrymatory urns are normally in the shape of a small flask with a narrow neck and wide mouth for catching the tears.


Figure 7. Monumental Church monument (Loth)

Sheltered by the portico is the marble monument inscribed with the names of the seventy-two Richmonders who perished in the fire. With its sharply sloping sides and deep cove cornice, the monument is one of the nation’s earliest structures to exhibit an Egyptian influence. (Figure 7) The Egyptian reference is heightened by the bas-relief of the winged sun disk in the cove cornice. In Egyptian mythology, the winged sun disk is a symbol of Ra, the sun god, believed by the Egyptians to be the Sun of Righteousness having healing in his wings, a title later adapted and modified by the Christians. [v]


Figure 8. Monument urn (Loth)

Symbolism abounds on the urn topping the monument. (Figure 8) The urn is in the form of an ancient cinerary urn, also a receptacle for human ashes. The flame issuing from the lid denotes the renewal of life. The downturned flaming torches on either side are ancient symbols of death, denoting the snuffing out of the flame of life. On the face of the urn we see a winged hourglass, a reminder that life is of limited time and speeds by quickly. It is encircled by a wreath of cypress branches, also a symbol of mourning. The theme of grief is reinforced by the two sculpted draped heads with their downcast eyes. The original marble monument and urn suffered extensive deterioration over the years resulting in serious loss of aesthetic and structural integrity. With the use of laser scans, an exact replica was crafted by the firm of S. McConnell & Sons of Lilkeel, Ireland and installed in place of the original in 2004.


Figure 9. Monumental Church interior, view to apse (Loth)

Entering the church through the front portico, we are struck by the horseshoe-shaped galleries enveloping the space and focusing on the apse. (Figure 9) The apse is an acoustical as well as architectural feature meant to project the sound from the pulpit. The arrangement of the room is defined as an auditory or auditorium-form church, which is a pulpit-centered unified space. This form was favored by 19th-century Protestant denominations since the high point of the service was the sermon. Hence, it was important for the congregation to see and hear the preacher clearly. Monumental’s original wineglass-shaped pulpit that towered above the reading desk was removed in a late 19th-century alteration.


Figure 10. Monumental Church interior, view to entrance (Loth)

Looking from the apse towards the entrance, we see an intriguing optical illusion, created by placing the saucer dome on an octagonal base. The thin moldings of the dome’s base glide over the octagon’s reentrant angles forming shadow pendentives. In addition, the effect of the sweeping curved shadows makes the flat walls of the octagon appear as convex curves. (Figure 10) The interior receives additional light from the ring of shallow windows in the dome’s lantern.


Figure 11. Monumental Church, apse column capital (Loth)

More symbols of death and mourning are displayed in the capitals of the two Ionic columns flanking the apse. (Figure 11) Instead of the normal channels between the volutes, Mills placed carved drapery swags, a motif recalling the drapery swags used to ornament catafalques and hearses. As noted above, the downturned torches, seen in the capital’s neck are ancient symbols of death. The stars, on the other hand, are symbols of heaven and eternity, reminding us of the Christian belief of the promise of eternal life after death. The leaves and buds in the balusters (sides of the volutes) are stylized versions of the Mediterranean laurel, an ancient symbol of victory and sometime symbol of eternity. Topping the capital is a modified cinerary box lid with anthemions ornamenting the triangle


Figure 12. Monumental Church, gallery detail (Loth)


Figure 13. Choragic Monument of Lysicrates cresting, Antiquities of Athens, Vol. 1: Chapter IV. Plate VI (1762) [detail]

Mills’ creativity is particularly evident in the gallery columns as well as in the entablature blocks and railing pedestals above each column. (Figure 12) The columns are thin versions of the Delos Doric seen on the exterior, with short sections of fluting at the bottoms and tops of the shafts. The capitals are a Mills invention, consisting of a series of bands below a flattened echinus and an abacus in the form of a cinerary box lid. The entablature block above the capital is a unique composition. A patera, representing the shallow dishes used in the ancient ceremonies of sacrifice, ornaments the frieze. Any symbolism inherent in the curved motif in the architrave is undetermined. Individual too are the three bold dentils and the complex series of compressed moldings forming the cornice. The shallow recessed Gothic panel in the pedestal may be a reference to Christianity. However, the anthemion motif in the ornament atop the pedestal is taken from the cresting of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates as illustrated in The Antiquities of Athens. (Figure 13)


Figure 14. Monumental Church, west doorframe detail (Loth)


Figure 15. Monumental Church, west stair vestibule (Loth)

Similar creativity and imagination is exhibited in the doorframes leading to the side vestibules and the gallery stairs. (Figure 14) Here the classical vocabulary has been abstracted to the degree that it resembles Art Deco ornament of the mid-20th century. With their sinewy lines the double stairs in each vestibule are masterpieces of design and construction. Each flight winds up the curved walls of the vestibule to a landing at the top. (Figure 15)


Figure 16. Monumental Church, crypt vault (Loth)

We must venture in the crypt to see the final piece of Monumental Church’s poignant history. Towards the crypt’s southern end, but not quite beneath the portico, is a large brick vault containing the ashes of those who perished in the fire, whose remains could not be identified. (Figure 16) X-ray examination of the vault indicated that the ashes are interred in two large wooden boxes.

Monumental Church was originally intended to be a non-denominational shrine available for community use. Practicality, however, dictated that it be an Episcopal parish church instead, in which capacity it served until 1965. The church is now owned by the Historic Richmond Foundation and has been undergoing long-term restoration under the foundation’s direction.[vi] The architectural lesson of Monumental Church is that its design is an effective (and indeed early) demonstration of the Miesian dictum that form follows function. In this case, however, its architect utilized traditional forms—an octagon, a dome, and porticoes, to create a distinctive composition for accommodating a particular programmatic use and a special symbolic function. He gave expression to the composition by employing various ancient symbols to both convey and memorialize its tragic history. Finally, using a fertile imagination, he created unique compositions of details that provoke lasting reflection.

[i] Detailed illustrations of the rib construction were published in Philibert de l’Orme’s Nouvelles Inventions pour dien bastir et a petiz frais (1561).
The portico is executed in Aquia Creek sandstone. The main body of the church is brick covered with stucco. The whole structure was originally covered with limewash for a uniform appearance. The portico stone was cleaned of later coatings in the mid-20th century, exposing the stone. The current limewash coating is a recent treatment and is part of the ongoing restoration.
Stuart and Revett made their two engravings of this order from two columns and other fragments found among ruins of what was then an uninhabited Island. They speculated that the columns belonged to a temple dedicated to Apollo. Subsequent authorities have maintained that identity.
It is uncertain whether Mills’ model for the order was Stuart and Revett’s depiction or a similar illustration published in Julien-David Le Roy’s Les ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grece (1758). Le Roy’s work was a primary source for Mills’ mentor Benjamin Henry Latrobe, and the work was also owned by Mills’s other mentor Thomas Jefferson. Mills could have had access to the book from either Latrobe or Jefferson. Jefferson owned volume 1 of Antiquities of Athens but not volume III.
Like nearly all churches, Monumental Church evolved in appearance through alterations and additions over the years. In the late 19th-century, the original apse arrangement was changed to accommodate the more ceremonial Episcopal liturgy. Golden oak choir stalls, priest’s chairs and desks, and altar were installed. Stained-glass windows replaced the original clear glass panes. A Sunday school wing was added to east side. Following the church’s deconsecrated, it was determined that Mills’ original scheme was more important than the later changes, and the long-term restoration of its original design was begun.

Classical Comments: Eustyle – By Calder Loth

Classical Comments:  Eustyle

By:  Calder Loth

Senior Architectural Historian for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and a member of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art’s Advisory Council.


Pantheon portico

Figure 1.  Pantheon portico, Rome; an ancient example of eustyle intercolumniation (Loth)


In The Ten Books on Architecture, the famous (and only surviving) ancient treatise on architecture, its author, Vitruvius, discusses how the character of a temple portico can be affected by the spacing of its columns.  Vitruvius defines closely spaced columns pycnostyle, which means the column shafts are spaced one and a half column diameters apart. This gives a portico a very static appearance. The widest spacing is araeostyle, which is four diameters apart. Vitruvius tells us araeostyle is impossible with masonry construction because the spans are too great for stone architraves. Areaostyle spacing is practical only when architraves are composed of wooden beams. Other types of intercolumniation are systyle (two diameters apart) and diastyle (three diameters apart). In all four spacing types, the columns have equal-width spaces between them.


Vitruvius then informs us that the ideal intercolumniation system is eustyle. As defined by Vitruvius, a eustyle portico has bays that are two and a quarter diameters in width except for the center bay, which is three diameters wide.  Vitruvius proclaimed the superior quality of eustyle spacing, stating, “In this way, the temple will have a beautiful configuration with no obstruction at the entrance.”[1] The term eustyle is derived from the Latin prefix eu, meaning good (as in euphoria—feeling good), and the Latin stilus, a narrow cylindrical object; i.e., a column shaft. The principle of eustyle spacing can be applied to porticos of four (tetrastyle), six (hexastyle), and eight (octastyle) or more columns.


Pantheon portico (detail)

Figure 2.  Pantheon portico (detail), ‘The Four Books’ (Isaac Ware edition, 1738) Book 4, plate LI


In perusing Book 4 of Andrea Palladio’s Quattro Libri (Four Books on Architecture), we might note that the majority of the ancient porticoed temples in Palladio’s reconstruction drawings incorporate some form of eustyle spacing.  Among them is the Pantheon, where Palladio notes that the portico’s center bay, in Vincentine feet and inches,[2] is  9’3½” wide, while the outer bays are 8’2½”wide. (Figure 2) Even though the temples Palladio measured and illustrated normally employ a slightly wider center bay, not all strictly follow Vitruvius’s spacing formula. Indeed, in some of the temple elevations, such as that for the Temple of Saturn, the dimension variation is so subtle that we need to look very carefully to see the effect. (Figure 3) Except for the Ionic temples of Portunus[3] and Saturn,[4] all of the porticoed temples Palladio included in Book 4 are in the Corinthian order, the preferred order for major buildings of the Roman imperial period.


Temple of Concord (Saturn)

Figure 3. Temple of Concord (Saturn), ‘The Four Books’ (Isaac Ware edition, 1738) Book 4, plate XCIII


Palladio employed some form of eustyle spacing in virtually all of his portioced villa and palace designs published in Book 2 of Quattro Libri. Because of the small scale of several of his villa elevations, as illustrated in the original woodcut prints, the eustyle spacing is not readily apparent. We see this in his elevation of the Villa Emo, where eustyle is not depicted. (Figure 4) However, as built, the villa subtly incorporates eustyle spacing in its Tuscan portico. (Figure 5) Palladio made no secret of his preference for eustyle intercolumniation. In Chapter IV of  Book 4 of Quattro Libri, Palladio paraphrased Vitruvius thusly: “So, then, the most beautiful and elegant sort of temple is called eustyle, which occurs when the intercolumniations are two and quarter column diameters, because it is extremely practical and also provides beauty and strength.”[5]


Villa Emo

Figure 4. Villa Emo, (detail), ‘Quattro Libri’ (Tavenor and Schofield translation of the 1570 edition), Book II p. 55


Figure 5. Villa Emo, Fanzolo, Italy (Loth)

Figure 5. Villa Emo, Fanzolo, Italy (Loth)


Among the aesthetic advantages of eustyle intercolumniation is the subliminal focusing of attention on a building’s entrance.  We see this in an almost subconscious way in each of the porticos of Palladio’s Villa Rotonda. (Figure 6) More importantly, making use of eustyle spacing can correct an optical illusion.  Consider, for example, the Tuscan portico of the 1826 Goochland County courthouse with its areaostyle (four diameters) column spacing. (Figure 7) Although the portico’s three bays are exactly the same width, the center bay appears narrower—an optical illusion. In contrast, the similar Tuscan portico on the 1823 Frascati makes use of eustyle intercolumniation. (Figure 8)  As with the Villa Emo, Frascati’s eustyle spacing lends a more visually pleasing character to the composition even though it is not immediately apparent that the center bay is wider, especially if not viewed straight on.


Figure 6. Villa Rotondo, Vicenza, Italy (Loth)

Figure 6. Villa Rotondo, Vicenza, Italy (Loth)


Goochland County Courthouse

Figure 7. Goochland County Courthouse, Goochland, Virginia (Loth)


Figure 8. Frascati, Orange County, Virginia (Loth)

Figure 8. Frascati, Orange County, Virginia (Loth)


Both the Goochland Courthouse and Frascati were designed and built by master builders who had worked for Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia. There they learned the classical language, but not necessarily a consistent use of eustyle spacing. Despite his strong advocacy of Palladian forms, Jefferson applied the eustyle principle only rarely. His Pavilion V at the University of Virginia is the only one of the institution’s ten pavilions to have eustyle spacing. (Figure 9) Here the hexastyle Ionic portico bears a strong resemblance to the porticoes of the Villa Rotonda, a work that was an important inspiration for Jefferson.  Jefferson headed his handwritten specification notes on the pavilion: “Pavilion No.V. Palladio’s Ionic modillion order.”[6] His awareness of eustyle is evident further down in the notes where he wrote: “from cent. to cent. of Columns mod 3 1/3 gives intercol. of mod. 2 1/3 the eustyle being 2 ¼ mod . . .”[7] Jefferson also used barely perceptible eustyle spacing in his proposed design for the residence of the United States President, a scheme based on the Villa Rotonda.


Pavilion V, University of Virginia (Loth)

Figure 9. Pavilion V, University of Virginia (Loth)


The 18th-century English Palladian architects were more consistent with their advocacy of Vitruvius’s and Palladio’s preference for eustyle spacing.  A majority of the portioced designs in Colen Campbell’s Vituvius Britannicus (1715 & 1725) have eustyle intercolumniation.  Sir William Chambers discussed some of the issues of eustyle in his Treatise on the Decorative Part of Civil Architecture. “It is however to be observed, that if the measures of Vitruvius be scrupulously adhered to, with regard to the eustyle interval, the modillions in the Corinthian and Composite cornices, and the dentils in the Ionic, will not come regularly over the middle of each column. The ancients, generally speaking, were indifferent about these little accuracies.” [8] Chambers went on to explain how to deal with the problem by making the column spacings slightly wider. Perhaps Campbell and Chambers were inspired by Inigo Jones, the patron saint of the Anglo-Palladian movement, who employed eustyle spacing conspicuously in the loggia on the Queen’s House, Greenwich (1616-35), a herald of English Palladianism. (Figure 10)


Queen’s House, Greenwich, England

Figure 10. Queen’s House, Greenwich, England, ‘Vituvius Britannicus’, Vol. 1, plate 15


The Anglo-Palladian architect, James Gibbs, on the other hand, was less concerned with eustyle design. He is silent on the subject in his otherwise highly influential Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture (1732). Moreover, nearly all of Gibbs’s portioced designs in A Book of Architecture (1728) lack eustyle spacing. Even his most famous work, St. Martin in the Fields (1722-26) avoids eustyle spacing, a design that influenced hundreds of American churches. (Figure 11) We might note, however, that in one of the most faithful adaptations of St. Martin, the 1924 All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C., architect Henry Shepley applied eustyle spacing in its Corinthian portico. (Figure 12)  Shepley may have been adhering to Chambers’ advice on how to handle the eustyle principle with the Corinthian order. More likely, he was following William R. Ware’s instructions in The American Vignola, the textbook for nearly every American architect of the first half of the 20th century. Ware wrote,


“The ancients . . . preferred what they called Eustyle Intercolumniation, of two and one-half Diameters (or three and one-half Diameters on centers, in place of three Diameters). But the moderns prefer to make the Eustyle Intercolumniation two and one-third Diameters (setting the columns three and one-third Diameters on centers), as this brings even Columns in Ionic and Corinthian colonnades exactly under the Dentil, and every alternate one just under a Modillion, the Dentils being one-sixth of a Diameter on centers, and Modillions two thirds of a Diameter.” [9]


If we look carefully at All Souls’ portico, we can see that each column is centered under a modillion.


St. Martin in the Fields

Figure 11. St. Martin in the Fields (detail), James Gibbs, ‘A Book of Architecture’, plate 3


All Souls Unitarian Church

Figure 12. All Souls Unitarian Church, Washington, D.C. (Loth)


Eustyle spacing is not so accommodating for the Doric order. If a column is to be properly centered beneath a triglyph, the middle bay cannot be widened without adding an extra triglyph, thus precluding any chance for a less pronounced increase in spacing in the center. We see this in comparing the porticos of Monticello (Figure 13) and the Redwood Library. (Figure 14) Monticello’s portico bays are the same width, but even here, the center bay appears narrower than the flanking bays. The entablature in the Redwood Library’s center bay employs the extra triglyph resulting in the center bay being conspicuously wider.


Monticello portico

Figure 13. Monticello portico (Loth)


Redwood Library, Newport, Rhode Island

Figure 14. Redwood Library, Newport, Rhode Island (Historic American Buildings Survey)


An awareness of the ancient principle of eustyle intercolumniation prompts us to take a more careful notice of the numerous porticoes we encounter. Many of the great landmarks of the American Renaissance employ eustyle spacing, including the Columbia University Library, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Supreme Court. John Russell Pope did not overlook the effectiveness of this age-old principle in what is perhaps the nation’s most prodigious Corinthian portico, on the National Archives. (Figure 15) Oftentimes the effect is so subtle that, like the Pantheon, it is more felt than seen.

National Archives

Figure 15. National Archives, Washington, D. C. (Loth)


[1] Thomas Gordon Smith, Vitruvius on Architecture, (The Monacelli Press , 2003) p. 96
Though various Renaissance texts vary, the Vincentine foot is approximately 13.5 inches imperial.
Called by Palladio the Temple of Fortuna Virilis.
Called by Palladio the Temple of Concord.
Andrea Palladio, The Four Books on Architecture, Translated by Robert Tavenor and Richard Schofield, (MIT Press, 1997) p. 219.
Mesick-Cohen-Waite Architects, Pavilion V, Historic Structure Report (University of Virginia, 1994) p. 20.
Sir William Chamber, A Treatise on the Decorative Part of Civil Architecture (2003 Dover Publications reprint of the London, 1791 third edition) p. 81.
William R. Ware, The American Vignola (1994 Dover Publications Reprint of the 1903 edition) p. 47.