Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Five Principal Orders - Part 1: Describing the Orders

When Masons are passed to the degree of a Fellow Craft, we are bombarded with a great deal of technical information.  This information is difficult or impossible to understand while we are being initiated, and these important matters frequently go undiscussed in the normal workings of our lodges.

(In Pennsylvania Masonry, we are specifically told to engage in the study of the Five Principal Orders and given their names, but we do not have any legenda or lectures in our work that explain their significance to the Craft.)

For our interest in a short discussion of classical architecture, we can focus on the structural elements, namely the differences in the styling of the supporting columns.  In classical architecture, columns evolved throughout time to reflect the technology of the builders as well as the aesthetic sensibility of the times.  All columns are composed chiefly of three parts, the base, the shaft and the capital.  To which order a column belongs depends primarily on the proportion of the width of the column to its height, but more noticeably about the decorative elements that are used to adorn the capital and base.  A more intense study of these architectural forms will indicate many other elements that contribute to the classification of an order, but we will focus on the columns themselves.

Although the Principal Orders are five, two are actually derivatives of the original three orders, namely, the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian, also known as the Greek Orders.  In many lodge rooms, these are the orders that are used for the pedestals at the station of the Junior Warden, Senior Warden and the Worshipful Master.

The oldest of these is the Doric, which is most notable for originally lacking a base, and standing flat on its flooring.  Doric columns, found on the Parthenon in Athens, are decorated with vertical grooves, usually twenty around, which are thought to originate in imitation of ancient columns made of bundled wood.  They have a smooth, undecorated capital that joins to a square plate of material known as an abacus.  Doric columns have a proportion of six or seven times their diameter.  Since all columns are narrower at the capital than at the base, Doric columns look shorter and squatter than other columns.  The Lincoln Memorial also employed this order in its construction.

The Ionic column brought several changes to the simplicity of the Doric.  Because of advances in building techniques, the proportion of columns was changed to make them nine diameters high, thus allowing for taller construction.  The capitals of Ionic columns are decorated with a spiral figure known as a 'volute', whose name derives from the Latin 'voluta' or scroll.  It can only be speculated as to whether the Greek architects conceived of this shape from natural observations, such as snail shell, or by mathematical derivation.  Although lost in the mists of time, the Temple of Diana at Ephesus, one of the Ancient Wonders of the World, was constructed with the Ionic order.  The Jefferson Memorial is another modern example of this order as is the Westmoreland County courthouse.

The Corinthian column is less mathematical and more sculptured in appearance.  In addition to the increase in its proportional height to ten diameters, the capital is richly decorated with small volutes and complex leaf-like structures, which are styled after the 'acanthus' leaf, a common flowering Mediterranean plant with fern-like leaves frequently used for decoration.  The Pantheon in Rome is the canonical example of this order of architecture and still stands today.  The U.S. Capitol building and the National Archives are decorated with this order.

The other two Orders are called Roman orders and are derivations of the Greek.  The Tuscan Order actually came into use long after the Greek period, but is listed first because of its starkness and simplicity.  The Tuscan is essentially an undecorated column and had a 'renaissance' in Roman architecture.  Its proportional height is also seven times the diameter.  Thomas Jefferson's famous home, Monticello, is decorated with Tuscan columns.

The Composite Order is not actually an order to itself, but is a later addition to classical architecture, consisting of various compositions of each of the features, generally that of the acanthus leaves and volutes in alternating arrangement.  It usually has a proportion of eleven or twelve times the diameter.  It was used in Ancient Rome primarily for triumphant arches, such as the Arch of Titus, which still stands in the Forum and commemorates the sack of the Second Temple at Jerusalem.

In the next installment, I will discuss the meanings of the various orders and their association with Masonic teachings.