Composite Order

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

Print of a capitel designed according to the Composite Order.
Composite Orders, Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae, The Met Museum

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Composite Order

The Composite Order is a mixed Order, as 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.

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 showing the Tuscan and Doric orders (top row); two versions of the Ionic order (center row); Corinthian and Composite orders (bottom row).

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

The Arch of Titus (IV): a single stone arch that stands 15 meters, with various tourists surrounding the base.
The Arch of Titus (IV)

Image source: by isawnyu

Renaissance writers added it to make five classical orders. Sebastiano Serlio was the first one, in his book “I Sette Libri d’Architettura”, to mention it as an order of its own, instead of as an evolution of the Corinthian order.

Palazzo del Capitaniato photo from the bottom up. There is a single arch that sits in the middle, the bottom half is a rusty pink color while the top is tan. There are various ornaments that compose the structure.
Palazzo del Capitaniato in Vicenza.

Image source: 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;
Remains of the capital of a composite column, at Ephesus (in present-day Turkey).
Capital of the Composite Order-  Remains of the capital of a composite column, at Ephesus (in present-day Turkey).

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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. 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). Large arches windows line the left side of the photo where a staircase begins and wraps up the the middle right side of the picture.
Palazzo Madama– Monumental staircase in Palazzo Madama, Turin (1718-1821)

Image source: by Prof. Mortel

Bedchamber of Madame Real, 1708-1709; Palazzo Madama, Turin (4). Picture of the ceiling art with various angels and warriors. Moreover, gold ornaments line the entire photo and the tops of the walls are a stark, red color.
Madame Real’s bedroom, 1708-1709; Palazzo Madama, Turin

Image source: by Prof. Mortel

Another wonderful example 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, but it is one out 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: by Carlo Raso

The Lescot Wing in the courtyard of the Louvre palace (Paris, France) is the oldest part of the existing complex. Architect Pierre Lescot designed the wing. Strongly tinged with Italian Mannerism, it became a part of the Parisian Renaissance style.

The Lescot wing of the Louvre Palace, which is a grand brown, stone building with a bottom row of arches, and two rows of windows, the top layer having smaller windows than the middle row. There is a dark roof on top of the building as well.
The Lescot Wing of the Louvre Palace
Two arches windows sit in the left side of the photo, there are two people sitting on the bench in front of a small statue of a person that lines the wall and a door. The wall is a bronze-gold color.
Detail of ground floor’s decoration, as illuminated by night

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