NOTE: This is the first of a series of short essays for the Classicist Blog by Calder Loth on various aspects of Classical architecture.
The Ionic Temple on the Ilissus, Athens
Though much altered and deteriorated, the diminutive Ionic temple on the bank of Athens’ Ilissus River survived into the mid-18th century. Enough ancient fabric was intact for James Stuart and Nicholas Revett to record it and publish restoration drawings in the first volume of their monumental work, The Antiquities of Athens (1762). The ruin was taken apart for its materials around 1778 and the Ilissus River is now covered under the sprawl of modern Athens. Nevertheless, with its simple elegance, the temple’s Ionic order became a favorite for Greek Revival buildings throughout America. The temple apparently had sculpted frieze decorations; however, Stuart & Revett’s elevation shows a plain frieze, which appealed to architects and builders. The frieze decorations were suggested with faint lines on a detail illustration. Other distinguishing features of the order are the Greek ovolos employed for the abacus and taenia, the plain architrave, and the graceful swag connecting the volutes. The order was subsequently published in several American pattern books, including Minard Lafever’s The Modern Builder’s Guide (1833), but the eight plates in The Antiquities of Athensremain the primary source.
Among the more conspicuous uses of the order are the entrances on several Washington Square town houses in New York (1833), the hall colonnades of Alexander Jackson Davis’s North Carolina State Capitol (1840), and Minard Lafever’s Sailors’ Snug Harbor complex on Staten Island (1833). Perhaps the earliest American use of the order is found on George Hadfield’s former Washington, D.C. City Hall (1820), now part of the district’s courts complex. A 20th-century example is John Russell Pope’s Baltimore Museum of Fine Arts (1929). In the latter three examples, the architects chose to leave the column shafts unfluted. The order remains an appropriate choice for modern classical works.
Calder Loth is the Senior Architectural Historian for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and a member of the Institute’s Advisory Council.
He was the 2010 recipient of ICA&CA’s Board of Directors Honor Award.