Composite Order

The Classical Composite Order was developed in Rome and, as its name suggests, is the result of a composition of Ionic and Corinthian Orders. In the Composite column capital there is a combination of Ionic volutes and  Corinthian acanthus leaves.

Corinthian capital, Chiswick House, London
Corinthian Orders, Chiswick House, London

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/b1dbae9b-d78f-4a12-90af-1a91991cc4c2 by orangeaurochs

Composite Order

The Composite order is mixed, the capital is the combination of the Ionic order and the Corinthian order. This order is essentially treated as the former one except for the capital, with no consistent differences to that above or below the capital.


In many versions, there is generally some ornament placed centrally between the volutes. The column is ten diameters high, though as with all the orders these details may be adjusted by the architect for particular buildings.

An illustration of the Five Architectural Orders engraved for the Encyclopédie, vol. 18, showing the Tuscan and Doric orders (top row); two versions of the Ionic order (center row); Corinthian and Composite orders (bottom row).
An illustration of the Five Architectural Orders engraved for the Encyclopédie, vol. 18, showing the Tuscan and Doric orders (top row); two versions of the Ionic order (center row); Corinthian and Composite orders (bottom row).
Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_order

The Composite order is not found in ancient Greek architecture and until the Renaissance was not ranked as a separate order. It was considered as an imperial Roman form of the Corinthian order. The Arch of Titus, in the forum in Rome, is sometimes cited as the first prominent surviving example of composite order, that was probably invented before Augustus’s reign and certainly developed before his death.

The Arch of Titus (IV)
The Arch of Titus (IV)

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/587b723c-b141-4a06-b831-f37fcfa796b9 by isawnyu

It was added by Renaissance writers to make five classical orders. Sebastiano Serlio was the first one in his book “I Sette Libri d’Architettura”, to mention it as an own order and not just as an evolution of the Corinthian order as previously.

Palazzo del Capitaniato
Palazzo del Capitaniato in Vicenza.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/ea8cd27d-05d9-4c85-830c-a9c3b722bae1 by Pedro Nuno Caetano

Composite Style Features

This style has the following characteristics:

  • Tall and slender columns (10 diameters high) that can outline column design or materials;
  • Capitals with acanthus leaves with big scrolls; its entablature shows an ostentatiously sculpted frieze and cornice;
  • The volutes of the Composite capital were adapted from Phoenician and Egyptian capital designs. They are large and some ornament is generally placed between the volutes;
  • Entablatures are the tallest of all the orders  (2 diameters high); From the bottom to the top, it presents: the architrave,  the frieze and  the cornice.
  • Composite  decoration reflects a sense of triumph; it was used to represent victory, prestige, opulence and success;
The Pantheon (IX)
Corinthian order capitol-  The Pantheon (IX)- Pillars and columns holding the roof of the portico of the Pantheon in Rome.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/beccd621-7de9-464a-8b9d-22d3ed201076 by isawnyu

Composite Order Later in History

Palazzo Madama in Turin is a large historic building, which owes its name to the resident widows of the 17th century dukes of Savoy.  It was also used by the Italian Senate. Today it houses the Museum of Ancient Arts. Despite its name, it is a large collection of paintings, statues and church ornaments.

Monumental staircase by Juvarra, 1718-21 in Palazzo Madama, Turin (10)
Palazzo Madama– Monumental staircase by Juvarra, 1718-21 in Palazzo Madama, Turin

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/860a08b9-081b-4064-bc0d-d7607b14475d by Prof. Mortel

Bedchamber of Madame Real, 1708-1709; Palazzo Madama, Turin (4)
Bedchamber of Madame Real, 1708-1709; Palazzo Madama, Turin

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/7b4b72df-6bbd-4066-bbcc-6c7885864513 by Prof. Mortel

Another wonderful example that needs to be considered is the facade of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. Borromini received the commission in 1634 from Cardinal Barberini. However the building project suffered various financial difficulties, it is one of at least three churches in Rome dedicated to San Carlo.

Front of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane Church (1667) in Rome (Detail) - Architect Francesco Borromini (Bissone 1599-Rome 1667)
Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane by Francesco Borromini- (1667) in Rome

Image source:https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/cca96206-6499-419e-8d70-96e7d22e617d by Carlo Raso

The Lescot Wing in the courtyard of the Louvre palace (Paris, France) is the oldest part of the existing complex. The Wing was executed between by the architect Pierre Lescot. Strongly tinged with Italian Mannerism, it became the Parisian Renaissance style.

The Lescot Wing of the Louvre Palace
Detail of ground floor’s decoration, as illuminated by night

Images source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lescot_Wing


Info source: https://www.classicist.org/articles/classical-comments-the-composite-order-an-overview/

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