The Corinthian Order

“The Five Orders of Architecture” is an architectural book written by Vignola in the middle of the 16th century.  And among these orders, the Corinthian, whose name derives from the Greek city of Corinth, is the most sophisticated.


Corinthian capital

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According to Vitruvius this style was created by the sculptor Callimachus and it is distinguished by the representation of acanthus leaves on the capital. Its oldest example is in the Apollo temple at Bassae c. 450–420 BC

Temple of Apollo Epicurius Archaeological site, Bassae, Greece

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Greek architecture as well as religion has been handed down to the Roman Empire. So nowadays you can see a Corinthian order in the Pantheon, the most intact ancient monument which has come down to us. It is often associated with goddesses.

Unlike the Doric and Ionic order, the Corinthian order was not much used in ancient Greece. Usually the lintel is divided into three parts so the entire composition is even more rich in ornaments. More mature examples of the use of the Corinthian order are often linked to circular buildings (usually called Monopteros) as you can see in the temple of Vesta in Rome.

Temple of Vesta, Rome. It has 20 exterior Corinthian columns standing on a 360 degree, 5-stepped tufa podium.

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In the mid-16th-century, Italian architects such as Sebastiano Serlio and Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola, who established a canonic version of the orders, thought they detected a “Composite order”, combining the volutes of the Ionic with the foliage of the Corinthian, however in Roman practice volutes were almost always present.

In Romanesque and Gothic architecture, where the Classical system had been replaced by a new esthetic composed of arched vaults springing from columns, the Corinthian capital was still retained. It might be severely plain, as in the typical Cistercian architecture.



The defining element of the Corinthian order is its elaborate, carved capital, which incorporates even more vegetal elements than the Ionic order does. The stylized carved leaves of an acanthus plant grow around the capital, generally terminating just below the abacus.

Its distinguishing characteristic are:

  • The striking capital, which is carved with two staggered rows of stylized acanthus leaves and four scrolls.
  • The shaft has 24 sharp-edged flutes, while the column is 10 diameters high. In its proportions, the Corinthian column is similar to the Ionic column, though it is more slender, and stands apart by its distinctive carved capital.
  • The abacus upon the capital has concave sides to conform to the corners of the capital, and it may have a rosette at the center of each side.
Structure of a Corinthian column

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The Romans favored the Corinthian order, perhaps due to its slender properties. The order is employed in numerous notable Roman architectural monuments, including the Temple of Mars Ultor, the Pantheon in Rome, and the Maison Carrée in Nîmes.

The Maison Carrée is an ancient building in Nîmes, southern France. (4-7 AD)

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Corinthian columns on a neo-classical style building (U.S. Post Office on Broadway) in New York City

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