Parts of an Ionic Column

Written by doug donald
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  • Introduction

    Parts of an Ionic Column

    Ancient Greek culture contains much of the foundation of modern Western culture. Along with language and philosophy, the ancient Greeks had a major impact on modern architecture. There are three fundamental orders of classical Greek architecture: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. The three orders are easily distinguished by their columns. Elegant Ionic columns are taller and more slender and refined than simple Doric columns, but less ornate than Corinthian columns. Ionic columns were first used in the fifth century BC, and were associated with education and philosophy. The Erechtheum on the Greek Acropolis features Ionic columns. Classical Greek architecture is evident in the buildings of ancient Rome. The Collosseum incorporates all three column types: Doric on the first level, Ionic on the second level and Corinthian on the third level.

    Ionic columns from ancient Greece. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

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    Ionic Column Base

    The column base is a distinguishing feature of the Ionic order. Doric columns are typically situated directly on a building floor or foundation. Most Ionic columns sit on a two-level round base. The base adds a decorative, elegant element to column's aesthetic appeal.

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    Ionic Column Shaft

    A slender, fluted shaft distinguishes the Ionic column from the shorter, thicker and non-fluted Doric column. Ionic columns are fluted with 24 hollowed-out areas running the length of the shaft. The fluted areas are widener or narrower depending on the diameter of the column. Fluting increases the perception of slenderness and length, adding to the visual appeal of the Ionic column. Ionic columns are typically uniformly slender, but some are designed with a slight bulge in the middle of the shaft. Roman-era Ionic columns are distinguished from the Greek by the spacing of the fluting on the shaft. Roman fluting includes a flat space, while Greek fluting incorporates a sharper edge. The Roman architect Vitruvius (1st century BC) considered the Ionic order to be "feminine" in contrast with the stark and powerful masculine beauty of Doric architecture.

    The fluted shaft of an Ionic column. (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

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    Ionic Column Capital

    The capital or crown is perhaps the most recognisable feature of Ionic columns. Situated at the top of the column shaft, the Ionic capital is noted for its scroll-like feature called a volute. The original volutes were designed in a single parallel plane. Later designs included angled volutes on columns located on corners of buildings, which gives a uniform appearance from the front or side of the building. Occasionally an engraved "collar" separates the volute fron the fluted shaft. A carved rectangular slab just above the volutes is called the abacus. The function of the abacus is to provide a larger supporting surface for the architrave above.

    The capital or crown of Ionic columns feature a scroll-like design called a volute. Directly above the volute is the abacus. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

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    Ionic Architecture in Modern Times

    The influence of ancient Greece on architecture continues through the centuries. Modern architects incorporate Ionic design elements into many buildings. The pleasing aesthetics and powerful projection of strength, stability and permanence make Ionic architecture ideal for government buildings and financial institutions. The U.S. Treasury building and Jefferson Memorial are examples of modern buildings with Ionic columns. The American Museum of Natural History in New York City, one the most famous museums in the world, features four Ionic columns. In a departure from classic Ionic columns, these do not include flutes. Residential architecture uses ionic columns to convey wealth and status. The colonnades of many Greek Revival homes are often supported by Ionic columns. This famously appears in the antebellum homes of the American south.

    Ionic columns adorn the Jefferson Memorial. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

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