Doric, Ionic and Corinthian

When the Ancient Greeks constructed temples thousands of years ago, they were very precise in their layouts and measurements for every aspect of these buildings.  There were three main architectural "orders" known as: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian.  The differences in the styles are most easily recognized in the column capitals (the decoration on top of the columns) and have been used in architecture ever since.  

Which style is which and what are the differences between them?

The Doric Order
Our first example, Doric can be seen by looking at the two examples below: to the left the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens and to the right a diagram of the Doric Order.  The Doric Order was the first to be introduced, the column capital is plain and undecorated and the column itself is fluted and there is no base to the columns which grew slightly larger in circumference as they neared the base.  The Doric order also included a specific "entablature" or decoration above the columns.  Alternating "triglyphs" and "metopes" around the frieze at the top and sat on top of a plain band known as the "architrave" where the column would meet the frieze.

Triglyphs had three raised bars (tri=three) which separated each sculptural scene, those were known as metopes (met-oh-pee).  The simplicity of this style was very popular in the Archaic Period in Greece (750-480 BC) and seemed to be more popular on the mainland than on the Greek islands.  The Doric Order was imposing and massive in their appearance and elements of this continued to influence through the ages.


Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, Greece, 449-415 BC
photo- © Sharon Mollerus / public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Here is a more recent example of an adaption of the Doric Order, the Tempietto designed by Bramante in Rome at the start of the 16th century during the High Renaissance.  Bramante was also responsible for being one of the principle architects of St. Peter's in Rome.

Note that while Bramante used the classic Doric column capital, he broke from the Ancient Greek tradition by using smooth columns instead of fluted columns and he added bases to the columns which the traditional Doric did not use.  Another Renaissance invention was using a different color of marble for the column and capitals.  However Bramante did include the full entablature of the Classical Doric Order: an architrave (plain band above the columns) and triglyphs (three raised bars) alternating with metopes (sculptural decoration).

Tempietto, Donato Bramante, San Pietro in Montorio, Rome, c-1502

The Ionic Order
The second style that was invented was known as Ionic and can be most easily recognized by the scrolled capital on top of the columns.  This style was also created in the Archaic period and was used more frequently on the Aegean Islands than on the Greek mainland.

Besides the scrolled capital which is its most recognizable feature, the fluted columns are thinner and sit on a base.  The triglyphs and metopes are replaced by a plain, undecorated frieze.

Column of the Erechtheion, Acropolis of Athens, 421-406 BC
photo- © Guillaume Piolle / public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A beautiful Renaissance example can be seen in La Rotunda (Villa Capra) which was designed by Palladio in Vicenza in the middle of the 16th century.  Palladian architecture had an enormous influence on both Renaissance and later architecture.  Palladio was very aware the the proportions and harmony that were used to create the original Greek temples.

Here is a detail of one of four symmetrical porches, again the one change that Palladio made was to use smooth columns instead of fluted columns.  La Rotunda the influence behind the American president Thomas Jefferson's home of Monticello in Virginia.  However Monticello used the Doric Order on its porches.

Porch of the Villa Capra (La Rotunda), Andrea Palladio, Vicenza, began 1567

The Corinthian Order
The Corinthian Order was the latest order to be introduced, the earliest example was found during the Late Classical Period (430-323 BC) but it was the style favored by the Romans in their architecture.  The Corinthian order used a column topped with an ornate capital with acanthus leaves and small scrolls.  The rest of the Corinthian order was the same as the Ionic order: the column sat on a base and there was a plain frieze instead of the trygliph and metope pattern used in Doric.

From A. Rosengarten, A Handbook of Architectural Styles,1898
    The Pantheon in Rome, 126 AD

A very good example of this can be seen in the Roman Pantheon designed in 126 AD.  While earlier Greek Corinthian columns were fluted, some later buildings such as the Pantheon were not.  There are more examples of the Corinthian Order in architecture because the Romans preferred this style and used it frequently throughout the Roman empire.

Another Palladian example can be seen below in the beautiful gleaming white marble facade of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice.  We can instantly see the ornate column capital consisting of small scrolls and curling acanthus leaves.

San Giorgio Maggiore, Andrea Palladio, Venice, 1566-1610

While there have been variations from the original Greek orders throughout the ages, even the Romans created variations.  Greek columns were freestanding and used for structural support but the Romans often used columns for decorative purposes.  

Look at the Colosseum, below.  Greek temples were built using only one order but the three bands of decorative columns are each topped with a different column capital.  Without looking can you identify each of the three?

Exterior of the Colosseum, Rome, 72-80 AD
photo- © Paul Zangaro / public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Remember that Doric has a plain capital, Ionic a scroll and Corinthian an elaborate one topped with leaves and small scrolls.  Therefore from the bottom up are Doric, Ionic and Corinthian.

 Variation on the three Greek orders: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian can be found everywhere.  They were used in the Renaissance, the Baroque and the Neoclassical styles of the 18th century as well as various revivals in the 19th and 20th century.  They are still in use today from public buildings to private homes and my blog readers are likely to spot them soon.  Next time you see a column that was created in the Greco-Roman style (or an original) you can ask yourself- Is it Doric, Ionic or Corinthian and I am sure you will know.  

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