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  The term order, in common use, suggests sequence and disposition, but in architecture it has come to be specifically identified with the classical ‘Orders’ of Western classical architecture. An ‘Order’ of this type is a column, with a base, and on the top a ‘capital’, with an entabulature. This Order is the key unit in classical architectural design from Greek antiquity, and therefore makes up the vocabulary of classically inspired architecture from the Renaissance onwards.

There are three principal ‘Orders’, Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, and two further ones which derive from them, Tuscan and Composite. Each Order is principally identified by the different detailing of the capitals, and their different proportions. The origin of the earliest Order, Doric, is thought to derive from primitive timber construction, which became translated into stone—probably in temple construction—the detailing of the entabulature reflecting the structural relationship of horizontal and vertical members.

The three principal Orders were described in detail in Vitruvius\'s treatise De Architectura (1st century  BCE). Vitruvius describes the proportions and appropriate uses of the particular Orders (for example, the Doric was seen as expressive of power and appropriate to temples of Minerva or Mars). After renewed interest in Vitruvius\'s text (perhaps the only such discussion to survive from the ancient world) in the Renaissance period, Alberti produced a treatise on architecture which described the Orders with reference both to Vitruvius and to his own observation of Roman architectural remains. There were many other treatises on the subject, of which the most influential in the 17th century were those of Serlio (1537), Vignola (1562), Palladio (1570) and Scammozzi (1615). These provided the source material for architects designing in the classical tradition, and contributed to a process by which the Orders became almost a set of ‘canonical formulae embodying all architectural virtue’. From the 17th century until this day in western Europe study of the Orders and their application formed an important part of architectural training. JM

See also classicism.Further reading J. Onians, Bearers of Meaning: The Classical Orders in Antiquity, The Middle Ages and The Renaissance; , J. Summerson, The Classical Language of Architecture.



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