A classical order is one of the ancient styles of classical architecture, each distinguished by its proportions and characteristic profiles and details, and most readily recognizable by the type of column employed. From the 16th century onwards, architectural theorists recognized five orders. The orders' origins come from Ancient Greece, later, they were used and modified by Romans. Each style has its proper entablature, consisting of architrave, frieze and cornice.
Ranged in the engraving (illustration, right), from the stockiest and most primitive to the richest and most slender, they are: Tuscan (Roman) and Doric (Greek and Roman, illustrated here in its Roman version); Ionic (Greek version) and Ionic (Roman version); Corinthian (Greek and Roman) and composite (Roman). There are just three ancient and original orders of architecture, the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, which were invented by the Greeks. To these the Romans added the Tuscan, which they made simpler than the Doric, and the Composite, which was more ornamental than the Corinthian.
The order of a classical building is like the mode or key of classical music, or the grammar and rhetoric of a written composition. It is established by certain modules like the intervals of music, and it raises certain expectations in an audience attuned to its language.
There are three parts of a column. A column is divided into a shaft, its base and its capital. In classical buildings the horizontal structure that is supported on the columns like a beam is called an entablature. The entablature is commonly divided into the architrave, the frieze and the cornice. To distinguish between the different Classical orders, the capital is used, having the most distinct characteristics.
A complete column and entablature consist of a number of distinct parts. The stylobate is the flat pavement on which the columns are placed. Standing upon the stylobate is the plinth, a square block – sometimes circular – which forms the lowest part of the base. The remainder of the base may be given one or many moldings with profiles. Common examples are the convex torus and the concave scotia, separated by fillets or bands.
On top of the base, the shaft is placed vertically. The shaft is cylindrical and both long and narrow. The shaft is sometimes articulated with vertical hollow grooves or fluting. The shaft is wider at the bottom than at the top, because its entasis, beginning a third of the way up, imperceptibly makes the column slightly more slender at the top.
The capital rests on the shaft. It has a load-bearing function, which concentrates the weight of the entablature on the supportive column, but it primarily serves an aesthetic purpose. The simplest form of the capital is the Doric, consisting of three parts. The necking is the continuation of the shaft, but is visually separated by one or many grooves. The echinus lies atop the necking. It is a circular block that bulges outwards towards the top to support the abacus, which is a square or shaped block that in turn supports the entablature.
The entablature consists of three horizontal layers, all of which are visually separated from each other using moldings or bands. The three layers of the entablature have distinct names: the architrave comes at the bottom, the frieze is in the middle and the molded cornice lies on the top. In Roman and post-Renaissance work, the entablature may be carried from column to column in the form of an arch that springs from the column that bears its weight, retaining its divisions and sculptural enrichment, if any.
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