Copyright

The Corinthian Order

Mikala Swank, Stephanie Przybylek
  • Author
    Mikala Swank

    Mikala Swank has professionally taught English, writing, and music for all grade levels in the last four years. They have a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Minor in Education from Virginia Commonwealth University. They also have an Undergraduate Certification in Disability Studies.

  • Instructor
    Stephanie Przybylek

    Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Read about Corinthian columns and the Corinthian order in architecture. Learn what the three Greek architectural orders are, as well as how to recognize them. Updated: 03/18/2022

The Corinthian Order

In ancient times, Greek architects created an order of architecture, which is a system of related design elements for the decoration of structures. In regard to columns, an order is defined by the way the architect designs the top of the column, otherwise known as a capital. Of the three orders of Greek columns (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian), the last and most popular is the Corinthian column due to its ornate designs.

The Corinthian order was first developed around 430 BC, and it was named for the Greek city-state of Corinth. Although the Greeks continued to create the Corinthian columns until 323 BC, the Romans further popularized the Corinthian style of column.


Traditional Corinthian columns in the Temple of Zeus

Image of Corinthian column at the Temple of Zeus


What are the Three Greek Architectural Orders?

There are three Greek architectural orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

  • The Doric order was created in the early 7th century BC and features a stout column with a smooth square or rounded top.
  • The Ionic order was first seen in Ionia in the mid-6th century BC and features a slimmer column with a decorated scrolled top.
  • The Corinthian order is the latest of the original orders, appearing around the mid-5th century BC with the slimmest of columns and a highly ornate sculptural top.

There are also two later Roman orders: Tuscan and Composite.

  • The Tuscan order is a combination of the Doric order mixed with some classical Tuscan styles.
  • The Composite order is a combination of the Ionic and Corinthian orders.

What Is the Greek Corinthian Order?

The ancient Greeks built many temples and other structures using creative ideas related to architecture we still use today. Among those ideas are columns on structures with several different styles of capitals, or decorative column tops.

To ensure buildings echoed a cohesive sense of style, the Greeks created three orders of architecture, groups of design elements meant to go together on a building's exterior decoration. All orders included specific kinds of columns and capitals, and decorations on the entablature, a series of horizontal decorative bands above the columns and below the roofline. The entablature had three parts: the architrave, which runs above the capitals; the frieze, a band of decoration above the architrave; and the cornice, which is closest to the top of the building.

The three Greek architectural orders were Doric, which was the most simple; Ionic, which was a bit more decorative; and the Greek Corinthian order, which was the most elaborate and decorative of the three Greek architectural orders.

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Lintel Beams in Construction

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:04 What Is the Greek…
  • 1:10 Corinthian Order Elements
  • 3:03 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed Speed

Corinthian Columns

As the most ornate of all the columns, Corinthian pillars have numerous design characteristics. The shaft is the main portion of the column. In the Corinthian design, the shaft is fluted, which means that the shaft has vertical decorative lines cut into it that run the length of the column. In part of the shaft of a Corinthian column, there is an entasis.

An entasis is a curve in the shaft of the column that draws the attention of the eye up the column toward the capital. Above the shaft, there is a transition piece called the capital, which serves as a space between the fluted shaft and the decorative entablature above the capital.

Within the orders, the capital is incredibly important because it is one of the most distinguishing factors when comparing the orders. In the Corinthian style, the capital has an acanthus leaf design, which is a design motif based on a plant with spiked leaves found throughout the Mediterranean.


A capital of a Corinthian column showing traditional acanthus leaf designs

An image of a Corinthian column with acanthus leaves.


On top of the capital, there is an echinus, which is a round, circular portion that juts out from the capital below in order to hold up the abacus above. The abacus is a plain block that separates the echinus from the ornate entablature directly above the abacus. Finally, there is the entablature, or horizontal molding, at the top of the column that features ornate designs.

Corinthian Order Features

Corinthian architecture has numerous features that all contribute to the grandeur of the Corinthian column, specifically the entablatures, symmetry, and building proportions. As stated above, the horizontal moldings, otherwise known as entablatures, are decorated portions of the column. The designs on the entablature are reliefs, otherwise known as raised sculptural images. There are three parts to the entablature: the cornice, frieze, and architrave.


This picture shows the exact location of the cornice, frieze, and architrave portions of the entablature.

Entablature diagram of cornice, frieze, and architrave.


Within every order, the Greek architects believed in foundational principals of symmetry in their construction. Ancient Greeks believed that correct symmetry positively affected the harmony of the citizens, as they believed it represented the purity and beauty in nature. Therefore, columns would often surround the entire exterior of a temple or building in even rows.

Corinthian Order Elements

In the Greek Corinthian order, the columns were thin and fluted, meaning they had a series of vertical lines cut into the surface. The style tended to be slender and elegant. The most striking element of the Corinthian order was its very decorative capital with a design of scrolls and unfurled acanthus leaves.

The acanthus leaf is a design motif based on a durable plant with spiked leaves found throughout the Mediterranean. On the Corinthian entablature, the frieze was usually decorated with continual sculptural reliefs, where the figures were raised from the surface but not completely freestanding.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Video Transcript

What Is the Greek Corinthian Order?

The ancient Greeks built many temples and other structures using creative ideas related to architecture we still use today. Among those ideas are columns on structures with several different styles of capitals, or decorative column tops.

To ensure buildings echoed a cohesive sense of style, the Greeks created three orders of architecture, groups of design elements meant to go together on a building's exterior decoration. All orders included specific kinds of columns and capitals, and decorations on the entablature, a series of horizontal decorative bands above the columns and below the roofline. The entablature had three parts: the architrave, which runs above the capitals; the frieze, a band of decoration above the architrave; and the cornice, which is closest to the top of the building.

The three Greek architectural orders were Doric, which was the most simple; Ionic, which was a bit more decorative; and the Greek Corinthian order, which was the most elaborate and decorative of the three Greek architectural orders.

Corinthian Order Elements

In the Greek Corinthian order, the columns were thin and fluted, meaning they had a series of vertical lines cut into the surface. The style tended to be slender and elegant. The most striking element of the Corinthian order was its very decorative capital with a design of scrolls and unfurled acanthus leaves.

The acanthus leaf is a design motif based on a durable plant with spiked leaves found throughout the Mediterranean. On the Corinthian entablature, the frieze was usually decorated with continual sculptural reliefs, where the figures were raised from the surface but not completely freestanding.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the three types of Greek columns?

There are three types of Greek columns in the order of architecture: Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian. An order is defined by the way the architect designs the top of the column, otherwise known as the capital.

Did Romans use Corinthian columns?

Corinthian columns were very popular in Rome. In fact, Corinthian columns are a part of the top of the Roman Colosseum.

What was the Corinthian order used for?

In the early period of Corinthian columns, they were primarily both a decorative and functional design element. Ancient Greek architects crafted the Corinthian column in keeping with their tradition of symmetry and harmony.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Resources created by teachers for teachers

Over 30,000 video lessons & teaching resources‐all in one place.
Video lessons
Quizzes & Worksheets
Classroom Integration
Lesson Plans

I would definitely recommend Study.com to my colleagues. It’s like a teacher waved a magic wand and did the work for me. I feel like it’s a lifeline.

Jennifer B.
Teacher
Jennifer B.
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account