The Ten Books on Architecture, 4.2.2

Vitruvius  Parallel editions

‹‹‹ Vitr. 4.2.1 | Table of Contents | Vitr. 4.2.3 ›››

Gwilt translation

2Thus each piece has its proper place, origin, and purpose. Hence, following the arrangement of timber framing, workmen have imitated, both in stone and marble, the disposition of timbers in sacred edifices, thinking such a distribution ought to be attended to; because some antient artificers, having laid the beams so that they ran over from the inner face of the walls, and projected beyond their external face, filled up the spaces between the beams, and ornamented the cornices and upper parts with wood-work elegantly wrought. They then cut off the ends of the beams that projected over the external face of the wall, flush with its face; the appearance whereof being unpleasing, they fixed, on the end of each beam so cut, indented tablets, similar to the triglyphs now in use, and painted them with a waxen composition of a blue colour, so that the ends of the beams in question might not be unpleasant to the eye. Thus the ends of the timbers covered with tablets, indented as just mentioned, gave rise to the triglyph and metopa in the Doric order.

Morgan translation

2Thus each and every detail has a place, origin, and order of its own. In accordance with these details, and starting from carpenter’s work, artists in building temples of stone and marble imitated those arrangements in their sculptures, believing that they must follow those inventions. So it was that some ancient carpenters, engaged in building somewhere or other, after laying the tie-beams so that they projected from the inside to the outside of the walls, closed up the space between the beams, and above them ornamented the coronae and gables with carpentry work of beauty greater than usual; then they cut off the projecting ends of the beams, bringing them into line and flush with the face of the walls; next, as this had an ugly look to them, they fastened boards, shaped as triglyphs are now made, on the ends of the beams, where they had been cut off in front, and painted them with blue wax so that the cutting off of the ends of the beams, being concealed, would not offend the eye. Hence it was in imitation of the arrangement of the tie-beams that men began to employ, in Doric buildings, the device of triglyphs and the metopes between the beams.