The Ten Books on Architecture, 3.5

Vitruvius  translated by Joseph Gwilt

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5The scamilli being prepared and set, the bases of the columns may be laid, their height being equal to the semidiameter of the column including the plinth, and their projection, which the Greeks call ἔκφορα, one quarter of the diameter of the column. Thus the height and breadth, added together, will amount to one diameter and a half.

2If the attic base be used, it must be so subdivided that the upper part be one-third of the thickness of the column, and that the remainder be assigned for the height of the plinth. Excluding the plinth, divide the height into four parts, one of which is to be given to the upper torus; then divide the remaining three parts into two equal parts, one will be the height of the lower torus, and the other the height of the scotia, with its fillets, which the Greeks call τρόχιλος (trochilus).

3If Ionic, they are to be set out so that the base may each way be equal to the thickness and three eighths of the column. Its height and that of the plinth the same as the attic base. The plinth is the same height as in that of the attic base, the remainder, which was equal to one-third part of the column’s diameter, must be divided into seven parts, three of which are given to the upper torus; the remaining four parts are to be equally divided into two, one of which is given to the upper cavetto, with its astragals and listel, the other to the lower cavetto, which will have the appearance of being larger, from its being next to the plinth. The astragals must be an eighth part of the scotia, and the whole base on each side is to project three sixteenths of a diameter.

4The bases being thus completed, we are to raise the columns on them. Those of the pronaos and posticum are to be set up with their axes perpendicular, the angular ones excepted, which, as well as those on the flanks, right and left, are to be so placed that their interior faces towards the cell be perpendicular. The exterior faces will diminish upwards, as above-mentioned. Thus the diminution will give a pleasing effect to the temple.

5The shafts of the columns being fixed, the proportions of the capitals are thus adjusted: if pillowed, as in the Ionic, they must be so formed that the length and breadth of the abacus be equal to the diameter of the lower part of the column and one eighteenth more, and the height of the whole, including the volutes, half a diameter. The face of the volutes is to recede within the extreme projection of the abacus one thirty-ninth part of the width of the abacus. Having set out these points on the listel of the abacus at the four angles, let fall vertical lines. These are called catheti. The whole height of the capital is now to be divided into nine parts and a half, whereof one part and a half is the height of the abacus, and the remaining eight are for the eye of the volute.

6Within the line dropt from the angle of the abacus, at the distance of one and a half of the parts last found, let fall another vertical line, and so divide it that four parts and a half being left under the abacus, the point which divides them from the remaining three and a half, may be the centre of the eye of the volute; from which, with a radius equal to one half of one of the parts, if a circle be described, it will be the size of the eye of the volute. Through its centre let an horizontal line be drawn, and beginning from the upper part of the vertical diameter of the eye as a centre, let a quadrant be described whose upper part shall touch the under side of the abacus; then changing the centre, with a radius less than the last by half the width of the diameter of the eye, proceed with other quadrants, so that the last will fall into the eye itself, which happen in the vertical line, at a point perpendicularly under that of setting out.

7The heights of the parts of the capital are to be so regulated that three of the nine parts and a half, into which it was divided, lie below the level of the astragal on the top of the shaft. The remaining parts are for the cymatium, abacus, and channel. The projection of the cymatium beyond the abacus is not to be greater than the size of the diameter of the eye. The bands of the pillows project beyond the abacus, according to the following rule. Place one point of the compasses in the centre of the eye, and let the other extend to the top of the cymatium, then describing a semicircle, its extreme part will equal the projection of the band of the pillow. The centres, from which the volute is described, should not be more distant from each other than the thickness of the eye, nor the channels sunk more than a twelfth part of their width. The foregoing are the proportions for the capitals of columns which do not exceed fifteen feet in height: when they exceed that, they must be otherwise proportioned, though upon similar principles, always observing that the square of the abacus is to be a ninth part more than the diameter of the column, so that, inasmuch as its diminution is less as its height is greater, the capital which crowns it may also be augmented in height and projection.

8The method of describing volutes, in order that they may be properly turned and proportioned, will be given at the end of the book. The capitals being completed, and set on the tops of the shafts, not level throughout the range of columns, but so arranged with a gauge as to follow the inclination which the small steps on the stylobata produce, which must be added to them on the central part of the top of the abacus, that the regularity of the epistylia may be preserved: we may now consider the proportion of these epistylia, or architraves. When the columns are at least twelve and not more than fifteen feet high, the architrave must be half a diameter in height. When they are from fifteen to twenty feet in height, the height of the column is to be divided into thirteen parts, and one of them taken for the height of the architrave. So from twenty to twenty-five feet, let the height be divided into twelve parts and a half, and one part be taken for the height of the architrave. Thus, in proportion to the height of the column, is the architrave to be proportioned;

9always remembering, that the higher the eye has to reach, the greater is the difficulty it has in piercing the density of the air, its power being diminished as the height increases; of which the result is, a confusion of the image. Hence, to preserve a sensible proportion of parts, if in high situations, or of colossal dimensions, we must modify them accordingly, so that they may appear of the size intended. The under side of the architrave is to be as wide as the upper diameter of the column, at the part under the capital; its upper part equal in width to the lower diameter of the column.

10Its cymatium is to be one seventh part of the whole height, and its projection the same. After the cymatium is taken out, the remainder is to be divided into twelve parts, three of which are to be given to the lower fascia, four to the next, and five to the upper one. The zophorus, or frieze, is placed over the epistylium, than which it must be one fourth less in height; but if sculptured, it must be one fourth part higher, that the effect of the carving may not be injured. Its cymatium is to be a seventh part of its height, the projection equal to the height.

11Above the frieze is placed the dentil-band, whose height must be equal to that of the middle fascia of the architrave, its projection equal to its height. The cutting thereof, which the Greeks call μετοχὴ (metoche), is to be so executed that the width of each dentil may be half its height, and the space between them two-thirds of the width of a dentil. The cymatium is to be one sixth part of its height. The corona, with its cymatium, but without the sima is to be the same height as the middle fascia of the architrave. The projection of the corona and dentils, together is to be equal to the height from the frieze to the top of the cymatium of the corona. It may, indeed, be generally observed, that projections are more beautiful when they are equal to the height of the member.

12The height of the tympanum, which crowns the whole work, is to be equal to one ninth part of the extent of the corona, measured from one extremity of its cymatium to the other, and set up in the centre. Its face is to stand perpendicularly over the architrave and the hypotrachelia of the columns. The coronæ over the tympanum are to be equal to that below, without the simæ. Above the coronæ are set the simæ, which the Greeks call ἐπιτιθίδες, whose height must be one-eighth more than that of the corona. The height of the acroteria is to be equal to that of the middle of the tympanum; the central ones one eighth part higher than those at the angles.

13All members over the capitals of columns, such as architraves, friezes, coronæ, tympana, crowning members (fastigia), and acroteria, should not be vertical, but inclined forwards, each a twelfth part of its height; and for this reason, that when two lines are produced from the eye, one to the upper part of a member, and the other to its lower part, the upper line or visual ray will be longer than the lower one, and if really vertical, the member will appear to lean backwards; but if the members are set out as above directed, they will have the appearance of being perpendicular.

14The number of flutes in a column is twenty-four. They are to be hollowed, so that a square kept passing round their surface, and at the same time kept close against the arrises of the fillets, will touch some point in their circumference and the arrises themselves throughout its motion. The additional thickness of the flutes and fillets in the middle of the column, arising from the entasis or swelling, will be proportional to the swelling.

15On the simæ of the coronæ on the sides of temples, lions’ heads should be carved; and they are to be so disposed that one may come over each column, and the others at equal distances from each other, and answering to the middle of each tile. Those which are placed over the columns are to be bored through, so as to carry off the rain-water collected in the gutter. But the intermediate ones must be solid, so that the water from the tiles, which is collected in the gutter, may not be carried off in the intercolumniations, and fall on those passing. Those over the columns will appear to vomit forth streams of water from their mouths. In this book I have done my utmost to describe the proportions of Ionic temples: in that following I shall explain the proportions of Doric and Corinthian temples.

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