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:

Architectural Etymology: by Calder Loth


Classical Comments:  Architectural Etymology

Courtesy of the Classicist Blog:

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.


The study of classical architecture introduces us to a multitude of terms for the various parts of the orders. For many it is a completely new vocabulary, one often difficult to learn. An investigation of the etymology of the words can be helpful for remembering many of the terms and understanding their rationale. As with so much specialized terminology, numerous objects received their names because they reminded people of familiar, similar-looking things. We see this happening in scores of different categories. For instance, we call the control device on an instrument panel a button. The glass vacuum vessel encasing an incandescent electric light is a bulb. The name given to the symbol for a program on a computer screen is an icon. (And don’t forget the mouse.) This naming phenomenon is particularly prevalent in classical architecture. For this month’s essay, I have taken terms for elements of the entablature and capital of the Tuscan order and explored why they are called what are and where their names came from. I hope this simple exposition will serve to foster a more informed appreciation of the classical language of architecture. I hope also to explore the etymology of additional classical features and details in future Classical Comments essays.

The image I have used for this investigation is a detail of the Tuscan order illustrated in Abraham Swan’s The British Architect (1758), which offers some of the most precise and beautiful depictions of the classical orders.

*  Denotes that the word is a term defined in the list.