Sunday, March 29, 2009

Classic historic Ionic

click photo to enlarge
The three original Greek orders of architecture have always seemed to me the perfect example of mankind's ability to conceive something of beauty, develop it and sustain it for the pleasure and edification of all. It's surmised that the Doric order arose from the woooden architecture that pre-dated the stone buildings that we can still see today. The sturdy, base-less columns and the entablature decorated with triglyphs and metopes, are thought to derive from the posts ( tree trunks?), and carpentry joints of the earlier structures. The Ionic and then Corinthian styles are seen as developments that increased the beauty and elegance of the orders. Subsequent ages and peoples developed the Tuscan and Composite orders from the Greek originals. This system of architecture, that originated before 600BC, has given people pleasure for over 2,000 years.

Today's photograph shows part of an Ionic column at the British Museum in London. It was once exposed to the elements, but is now protected by the glass roof that created the Great Court in 2000. This particular example is part of the museum built in the 1840s in the Greek Revival style by Sir Robert Smirke, and is very closely based on ancient Greek examples. Thus, the decorative features include the characteristic large volutes (scrolls), leaf and dart below the entablature, egg and dart (symbolising life and death) lower down, and bead and reel below that. The proportions of Greek columns are very carefully managed: the height of an Ionic example is usually about nine times the diameter. As with Doric and Corinthian, a slight swelling around the middle (entasis) counteracts an optical illusion that the column narrows at that point. The fluting (vertical grooves) of the Ionic column always number 24. In 1537 Sebastiano Serlio published Regole generali d'architettura ("General Rules of Architecture"). In this and other volumes he set out, in great detail, the proportions and style of the orders drawing on ancient and contemporary examples. Later architects leaned heavily on his research when they designed in the classical manner.

Rather than simply show the lovely detail and symmetry of the top of this column I went for an asymmetrical composition that included just over half of the capital - you can fill in the rest yourself! However, I did look for some "balance" in the layout. The filtered light falling on the subject has given it a certain flatness, and something of the character of a pen and ink-wash drawing of the type that an architect might have produced for a client, or perhaps a student's exercise completed as part of his or her studies. It's a quality that appealed to me.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 40mm (80mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/100 seconds
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On