The Classical Orders of Architecture – Landmark Engravings

Detail Engraving Horsemen

Design of the entablature and Britannic order for the gateway proposed for Carlton House by James Adam (1732-1794) and engraved by D. Cunego, Sculp, Rome 1775 – The Works in Architecture of Robert & James Adam, Published as the Act directs January 1773 – courtesy Private Collection

The so-called ‘orders of architecture’ were an essential aspect of every classical revival in architectural design for centuries. Producing quality engravings of them became an essential tool for every architect, at least until the twentieth century.

It was a way of advertising an architect’s expertise and it also made a statement about his personal style and pursuit of excellence.

‘God is in the details’*

The ‘engraving’ terminology is often transposed in a modern catalogue as a ‘print’, which was technically correct at the time when engravings were being produced by hand before the early years of the nineteenth century.

However in modern day terms, this could also mean an image produced by photographic methods, which are also called ‘prints’, so you can see it can become confusing for budding collectors. But Why?

Corinthian capitals and other details from the saloon and hall, Luton Hoo - Engraved by J. Zucchi 1774 450 x 600 mm Engraving from 'The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam', London 1773 - 1779

Corinthian capitals and other details from the saloon and hall, Luton Hoo – Engraved by J. Zucchi 1774 450 x 600 mm Engraving from ‘The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam’, London 1773 – 1779, courtesy Private Collection

The latter is produced en masse, while an original engraving was the result of a handmade limited copy technique.

Producing quality engravings for centuries meant the architect, first and foremost, prepared a highly detailed and refined drawing. This was then transposed ‘traditionally’ onto a copper plate by the ‘engraver’, many of whom attained a very high status and level of skill in their trade.

The engraver used a hardened steel tool (graver or burin) and the most highly skilled workers would use techniques such as ‘hatching’ (small lines) and stippling (dots) to achieve greater subtlety and to reveal nuances of ‘light and shade’ in their work when it was finally published.

When completed the image would be carefully inked and the image transferred onto quality paper by hand, producing a ‘print’ of the engraved image.

The copper plate could only be used to produce a limited number of clear and precise images before it would have to be discarded and in most cases, destroyed.

For this reason Folio publications of ancient architectural treatises (or indeed other publications across a wide arena of subjects) were often limited to a small print run and have become a great arena for connoisseurs and collectors.

The secrets of the Master Engravers were passed down through their trade for centuries, but only to their most trusted apprentices.

Just like the glass makers of the island of Murano in the Venetian lagoon, their success came from closely guarding their methodology.

It wasn’t until the advent of photographic practices during the second half of the nineteenth century that both their art and craft was challenged.

New ‘modern print’ images produced from photographs meant much bigger print runs and greater economy, meaning more profits for the printers and their clients.

Today original hand engravings, produced in early landmark architectural folio and book productions are becoming very rare indeed. Many of the publications first produced containing very fine engravings have been torn apart, or destroyed, simply to sell off the images.

Detail Engraving Horsemen

Engraving: Detail of one, of sixty-one plates selected from Stuart’s and Revett’s Antiquities of Athens, to which are added, The Report from the Select Committee to the House of Commons, respecting The Earl of Elgin’s Collection of Sculptured Marbles and An Historical Account of the temple, courtesy Private Collection

An example would an exhibition at Sydney during the 80’s when 61 engravings of the Elgin Marbles, selected from ‘Stuart’s and Revett’s Antiquities of Athens’ and re-produced in “The Report from the Select committee to the House of Commons in England” originally published in 1816, were sold.

The images were details from a giant frieze on the ancient Greek ‘Doric’ order temple we now know as the Parthenon at Athens, which circumnavigated the whole building in antiquity. The majority were details of the Pan Hellenic procession, which took place each year, bringing a new robe to the Goddess Athena to whom the Parthenon was dedicated.

The section known as the Horsemen of the Parthenon is indeed, captivating.

An Ionic temple designed according to Vitruvius’s most perfectly proportioned ‘symmetriae’. The portico shelters a well-formed human being to demonstrate the analogy between ideal proportions in nature and similar qualities in a building: Illustration from Vitruvius on Architecture by Thomas Gordon Smith 2003, courtesy The Monacelli Press

The orders of architecture are the decorative elements of the architectural vocabulary of antiquity, originally pertaining to design in ancient Greece and then that of ancient Rome.

Each order is made up of a particular style of column, with the base supporting the column, which is surmounted by a capital, which in turn supports an entablature above and following a set formula.

Understanding their proportions, and handling each order appropriately, an architect for centuries would have not felt equipped were he not able to draw them.

During the fourteenth century Europe’s interest in classical antiquity was revived by Italian poet and scholar Francesco Petrarca Petrarch (1304 -1374). In his writings he described the sense of wonder and awe he experienced wandering among the ruins of ancient Rome on his first visit there.

While Christopher Columbus was busy exploring the new world, artists, scholars, princes, adventurers and popes began searching feverishly through the soil of Rome for the remains of its former splendour.

It had never disappeared entirely, The Eternal City, that great intellectual, political and artistic capital had survived the sacking of the city in the fifth century and by marauding Goths in 537 who destroyed the pipes carrying water from the aqueducts to the cities causing much of the city to be abandoned for centuries.

After that the sands of time literally covered many of its ruins for centuries.

Claude Perrault: Five kinds of Columns After the Method of the Ancients

Claude Perrault: Five kinds of Columns After the Method of the Ancients

The scholar’s passion for finding manuscripts from antiquity during the fifteenth century in Italy, spread out all over Europe to England and eventually America by the turn of the eighteenth century.

Learning about the orders of architecture was an important, and essential part of any architect’s training.

From then on without the orders of architecture a building lacked form. In the first instance the knowledge was gleaned from Roman antiquity.

During the fifteenth century in Europe there arose a need for exceptional change.

Feudal society had become outmoded and was gradually being replaced by a modern corporate system, with social dynamism disrupting traditional systems of privilege by rank.

Florentine historian Poggio Braccioloni

Florentine historian Poggio Braccioloni

The idea of the images of a Christian Empire combining with the former Pagan Empire was one that appealed strongly to creative craftsmen and men of learning.

Romans were earnestly seeking knowledge about the considerable achievements of their ancient ancestors. They were dreaming about a new republic built on the pattern of the old one.

Historian Poggio Bracciolini worked for the Pope at Rome and he completed a survey of the ruins of that city in 1430. He left a detailed description of the scene recorded by Edward Gibbon in his opus The Decline and fall of the Roman Empire

the public and private edifices that were founded for eternity lie prostrate, naked and broken, like the limbs of a mighty giant; and the ruin is the more visible from the stupendous relics that have survived the injuries of time and fortune…

At St. Gaul in the same year Poggio made an important discovery; an ancient architectural manuscript written in the 1st century after the Christ Event by a Roman engineer and architect Marcus Pollio Vitruvius.

This rare treatise become known to contemporary architects from an edition published in 1486. Vitruvius’s voice spoke across fourteen centuries when he declared

without symmetry and proportion no temple can have a regular plan; that is, it must have an exact proportion worked out after the fashion of the limbs of the finely shaped human body’.

He also said ‘man’s body is a model of proportion because with arms or legs extended it fits into those ‘perfect’ geometrical forms, the square and the circle’.

Five Orders by Sebastian Serlio

This was a landmark event; when scholars first re-discovered that the ancient Roman achievement was not a sudden creation, but owed a very heavy debt to ancient Greece and Athenian democracy.

Greek architectural style had reached its zenith five centuries before the Christ event at Athens, which was the ancient centre of the Greek world.

Sparseness moulded the enterprise of its people and it is the place where many today believe that artists have never been more successfully caught between the meeting of the human and the divine.

For scholars finding out knowledge from antiquity would proved to be lluminating, and from then on the classical ideal became a subject of an intense and passionate pursuit.

Vitruvius described the orders of architecture for Roman Emperor Augustus in the first century, to whom his treatise was dedicated.

John Shute: First and Chief Groundes of Architecture 1563

The theorists of the Renaissance at Italy illustrated and codified them. The treatises of Sebastian Serlio (1537), Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola (1562) Andrea Palladio (1570) and his pupil Vincenzo Scamozzi (1615) all presented them as a perfect formula and their treatises became major foundation texts for architectural practice.

Sebastian Serlio in his Five Books of Architecture published in France 1537 – 1547, produced the five orders. His treatise was of great importance in spreading knowledge of classical forms, especially in England. Serlio was an architectural theorist, whose books remained popular throughout the sixteenth century.

His Extraordinary Book published in 1551 contained doorways. Motifs from them were used to decorate doors, chimneypieces, coffered ceilings and pieces of furniture all over Europe and England.

John Shute in England published his opus The First and Chief Groundes of Architecture in 1563 containing his interpretation of the five orders.

Shute was most likely the first Englishman to visit Italy in 1550 expressly to ‘confer with the goings of the skilful masters in architecture, and also to view such ancient monuments thereof as are yet extant’. John Shute described himself as ‘architect’ in 1563 although he was a painter-stainer by trade.

He had the term ‘architect’ recorded on his headstone, which was the first instance of this profession being named on a record in England.

Andrea di Pietro della Gondola, later known as Andrea Palladio (1508 – 1580), was born in the Veneto in Italy at a time when the benefits of country living were becoming more and more apparent.

Extended peace allowed the building of more and more villas and we could say that Andrea Palladio was born at the right time and in the right place for providing a new style of architecture to suit his patrons new ideals.

He became an avid student of first century Roman architect Vitruvius. He understood that all the different aspects of proportion in architecture needed to relate to the human body, which had a symmetrical harmony of its own.

Palladio re-interpreted Vitruvius’ ancient measurements exploring many different ratios to achieve pleasing results. He turned to antiquity to produce his buildings less as a model than as a key to a harmonic language that would create the perfect balance between culture and taste because he also believed ‘the study of ancient remains was the power and moral force behind Roman civilization’.

It was in 1570 at Venice in Italy, where he had grown up, Andrea Palladio published his four books of architecture. It provided his illustrations of the classical orders, which came from some of the most important buildings of antiquity together with his own ideas for works in architecture in plan elevation and section, many of which appeared on par with those from antiquity.

Basilica-Vicenza-1Still an important focal point of public life at Vincenza in the Veneto today, the splendid basilica that Palladio designed proves that he was very sensitive to the problems associated with the aesthetics of corners, using three engaged columns to turn around the corners at each end of the building.

This technique also had the added advantage of buttressing or supporting the structure above.

He used the Doric  order on the arcades with cylindrical bases, on the upper floor used the Ionic order, and added an extra fascia or band of stone under the balcony to make it more visible from below.

Antoine Desgodetz: Pantheon at Rome from his landmark publication of 1682 full of engravings

Up until the mid eighteenth century Rome became the place that English ‘gentleman’ architects and those studying to make this their profession, believed they must see and draw first hand.

Many young men of fashion attached themselves to a member of the aristocracy and travelled as a ‘draughtsman’ in his entourage to make records of the architectural details on the remains of buildings from antiquity, as well as those built since the fifteenth century.

The first accurately measured drawings engraved by a French architect, Antoine Desgodetz, were published at the command of Louis XIV’s first minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert in 1682. Les edifices antiques de Rome dessinés et mesurés très exactement for many years was an essential reference.

Any young architect with a copy of this publication was able to determine the precise details and proportions of Roman structures and it was re-issued in Paris again in 1729 and 1779, so that leading neoclassical architects, such as Scottish born London based architect Robert Adam knew it well.

James ‘Athenian’ Stuart and Nicholas Revett – Drawing of the Parthenon in Athens from their landmark publication The Antiquities of Athens, 1762 and 1790

From the mid eighteenth century onward several influential publications brought about a wider range of architectural styles including The Ruins of Palmyra and The Ruins of Balbec by scholar Robert Wood.

The ruins of ancient Greece had been largely inaccessible to western European travellers until a series of measured drawings of the ancient buildings of Athens produced by James (Athenian) Stuart (1713-88) an English architect born in London went to Rome in 1741 and then on to Athens in 1751.

He and his companion Nicholas Revett would publish The Antiquities of Athens from 1762 – 1814, gradually revealing the full glory of the ancient Greek architectural style for the first time and architects all over the world were, to say the least, impressed.

Robert Adam, engraving peristyle of the Palace of Diocletian at Split, Dalmatia

The drawings that Robert Adam (1728 – 1792) made of Diocletian’s palace at Spalatro (now Split), together with a subsequent series of elegant engravings, elevated his own position in society as an antiquarian, as well as helped to establish his reputation as a neo-classical architect par excellence.

Adam had the unique ability to take an antique form and transform it into something that appealed to contemporary taste.

The publication of their opus “The Works in Architecture’, that he and his brother James collaborated on, was in three volumes over an extended span of time, beginning in 1773, with the final volume being published posthumously in 1822.

Robert wrote ‘we flatter ourselves, we have been able to seize, with some degree of success, the beautiful spirit of antiquity, and to transfuse it, with novelty and variety, through all our numerous works’

Ante Room at Syon House, the Ionic Capital treatment by Robert Adam

At Syon House, one of Robert Adam’s singular great achievements in adapting a medieval house to modern usage, was the full splendour of the Ionic order that he designed for the famous ‘ante room’, which is also one of the rare rooms in which he used gilding.

It had been adapted from the Ionic order capital, originally used for the Erechtheion on the Acropolis at Athens.

He turned it into a sumptuous work of art, as he did the columns in the library at Kenwood House, where his Doric order is far more ornamental than any original.

Luton Hoo as designed by Robert Adam: Image from Jones’s View of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen 1829

At Luton Hoo in 1764 Robert Adam was given the only opportunity he ever had to build an entirely new country house.

Other than that he was mostly involved in additions and improvements to existing establishments.

His patron Lord Bute was a notoriously difficult man, in private and professional life, however he had secured for Robert the post of Joint Architect to the King’s Works in 1761.

He had also commissioned Adam to build him a new house in town. However both ended up being sold unfinished, because for Bute both time and circumstances dramatically changed.

It was in 1774 that Robert Adam produced his first fine set of engravings for Luton Hoo and there is a detailed section of the cornice, frieze and capital and other details from the saloon and hall that was engraved by J. Zucchi and published in Adam’s ‘The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam’. It reveals his ‘elegant’ approach to adapting the classical orders of architecture to the neoclassical style that he would set the tone both in England and in America.

Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce - RSA London, from the Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam, Published as the Act directs January 1773

Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce – RSA London, from the Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam, Published as the Act directs January 1773

Neoclassicism was never just a fleeting style or a label invented just for the convenience of art historians. It was the culture of an age where men deliberately set out to rediscover the virtues of classical art and architecture and did so in such a manner the results are still relevant today.

Neoclassical design was also not just a pastiche of columns, capitals and pediments, it was an all embracing movement covering all the arts including music, architecture and design based on wide ranging archaeological and academic research.

An engraving from Jones’s View of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen (1829) reveals how Luton Hoo looked as originally designed by Adam, although two major sets of alterations were carried out after this image was published in 1829.

As an aside, Luton Hoo has been converted into a country hotel in the 21st century, its furnishings selected to represent its original neoclassical intent.

Robert’s brother, draughtsman James Adam’s Design of the entablature and Britannic order for the gateway proposed for Carlton House (illustrated at top of story), which was engraved by D. Cunego in 1775 is also very fine. He replaced the volutes of a Corinthian capital with the very British images of the ‘lion and a unicorn’, with roses, thistles and crowns also incorporated into its style, making it a unique and very triumphant work of art.

Engraving by Charles Tatham c1825 – Private Collection

During the early nineteenth century the Prince of Pleasure, George Prince of Wales’s architect Henry Holland sent a young man in his employ, Charles Tatham to the continent to draw his own views.

Tatham produced in 1825 ‘All of the details of Classical Decorative Elements from various palaces and temples and drawn on his Grand Tour of Europe under the instructions of the Prince Regent’s Architect, Henry Holland

While he had been at Rome Robert Adam had become a firm follower of, and friend to Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) an Italian architect, designer and engraver of approximately 2000 views of the eternal city.

Piranesi’s drawings were vast in their conception, making Rome itself seem to many quite meagre by comparison. His studies with Piranesi injected Adam with enthusiasm to emulate what he had seen. Piranesi described Adam as endowed with ‘more genius for the true and noble architecture than any Englishman ever was in Italy’;

Robert Adam and Giovanni Battista Piranesi – Heroes on a Coin

Adam benefited from Piranesi’s acquaintance, considering him the only Italian artist with an ability to ‘breathe the ancient air’. Together they formed a mutual admiration society. Adams’ collections of drawings made in Italy now in the Soane Collection and Victoria and Albert Museum at London are a memoir of that time.

Pre-eminent twentieth century English architectural historian John Summerson (1904-1992) went as far as saying that to the Romans ‘the orders were architecture’.

Today those who collect original engravings seek those published in the landmark publications of early architectural giants. They include the engravings that have been gleaned from the ‘Works in Architecture of Robert Adam (1728 – 1792) and James Adam (1732 – 1794), London, published 1773 – 1779 and from the ‘Ruins of the palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia’, London 1764, by Robert Adam as well as  ‘A treatise of civil architecture’ by Sir William Chambers (1723-1796) published at London in 1759.

Claude Perrault: Five kinds of Columns After the Method of the Ancients

Chambers was a particular rival of Adam for pre-eminence in the field of neoclassical architecture.

Then there are those by French architect Claude Perrault (1613-1688) whose ‘A treatise of the five orders of columns in architecture’ was published at London in 1708, or yet still those by the Italian genius Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720 – 1778) from his ‘l trofei di Ottaviano Augusto’ published at Rome 1753 or ‘Le Antichitá Romane’, published at Rome in 1756 as well as other treatises he produced between 1764 and 1775.

Stuart and Revett’s ‘The antiquities of Athens’ published 1762, 1789 and 1795 are for many engraving collectors, the icing on the cake.

The long path from material through function to creative work has only one goal: to create order out of the desperate confusion of our time. We must have order, allocating to each thing it’s proper place and giving to each thing is due according to it’s nature.*

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2012 – 2014

*Quotes attributed to German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969)

The Doric, Ionic and Corinthian are the three ancient Greek orders, plus their variants.

The Tuscan and Composite are two later Roman additions making five orders of architecture.

In ancient Rome the orders were used when building ‘high rise’ in the following order – Doric on the bottom row or ground level, Ionic in the middle level, Corinthian on the top level.

Temple of Hera 1 at Paestum, called Poseidonia by the Greeks, a Doric order temple dating to the mid 6th century BCE, before the Parthenon was built at Athens – It has chubby columns and larger capitals, but we already see the use of entasis, an optical illusionistic detail designed to emphasise the strength of the supporting structure and to compensate by making the columns seem more slender and straight when arranged over a large area.

The ‘classical’ Orders of architecture are:

The column and entablature developed by the Dorian Greeks, sturdy in proportion, with a simple cushion capital, a frieze of triglyphs ie three vertical bands separated by V shaped grooves alternating with metopes, ie a panel between the triglyph and mutules ie a sloping flat block on the soffit (underside) of the cornic

Originated by the Ionian Greeks, characterised by its capital with large volutes (spiral scrolls) on a fasciated entablature, continuous frieze, usually dentils in the cornice, and by its elegant detailing. Less heavy than the Doric, less elaborate than the Corinthian.

The slenderest and most ornate of the Greek orders (3) characterised by a bell-shaped capital with volutes and two rows of acanthus leaves, and with an elaborate cornice. Much used by the Romans for its showiness.

A simplified version of the Roman Doric order, having a plain frieze and no mutules in the cornice.

A Roman elaboration of the Corinthian order, having the acanthus leaves of its capital combined with the large volutes of the Ionic order, and other details also elaborated.

Greek buildings particularly emenate a power that survives, even in ruins.

The building of the Parthenon, sited high on the Acropolis (high ground) began in 447BC. It was the sanctuary of the divine patroness of Athens, Pallas Athena, Goddess of wisdom and of the liberal arts.

It was in her honour their most lavish festival the Panathenaia was held each year at Olympia, and it was the subject of the frieze that ran around the Parthenon. The frieze originally would have been hard to see even when it was brightly painted with green, red, pinks, blue and ochres.

Reconstruction cut-through of the Pantheon, which still exists at Rome

It was the Roman Emperor Hadrian who rebuilt the Pantheon the only building in the world that has survived in Rome intact from antiquity. Originally dedicated to all the Roman Gods it was built AD 120-124, although later converted to a Christian church.

The development of the vault, dome, rounded arch and concrete by the Romans led to the dramatic, rich and rounded forms that make Roman buildings memorable and distinctive.

Hadrian venerated the past and Greek architecture. He preserved the portico and Corinthian columns from a temple built in 25BC and placed them at the front of the older spherical building. The dome is wider than that of nearby St Peter’s built by Renaissance architect Michelangelo and supported by buttresses concealed within its twenty feet thick walls. The coffering of the roof inside gives the interior an appearance of lightness and elegance to its construction.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014







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