Classical Comments: The Ionic Temple on the Ilissus, Athens

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.

Temple on the Ilissus (as found), Chapter II, Plate I, The Antiquities of Athens

Temple on the Ilissus, restored elevation, Chapter II, Plate III, The Antiquities of Athens

Temple on the Ilissus, detail of order, Chapter II, Plate VI, The Antiquities of Athens

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.

Washington Square town house entrance, New York City (Loth)

Interior capital, Old North Carolina State Capitol, Raleigh (Loth)

Sailors’ Snug Harbor, entrance portico (Loth)

Washington, D.C. former City Hall, portico detail (Loth)

Baltimore Museum of Art, portico detail (Loth)

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.

2 Responses to Classical Comments: The Ionic Temple on the Ilissus, Athens

  1. Charlotte Hoock says:

    I am in the process of submitting the paperwork to get the Stephen W. Miles Mausoleum (near Waterloo, IL) on the National Registry of Historic Places. I received confirmation from the state that it could qualify. The detailed application is what I’m working on now. I am a Trustee of this cemetery and not educated enough to properly describe the mausoleum which was built in 1858. If I e-mail you pictures would you help by describe the architectural features so I can properly include them in my application? I will list you as a reference.
    Looking forward to your response.
    Charlotte

    Reply »
  2. Ellen Weiss says:

    In New Orleans the term “Greek Key” (referencing a cartoony keyhole?) is used to describe a Minard Lafever-type doorway with framing that narrows as it ascends to the croissette. As I understand it, Lafever is approximating door and window openings on the Erechtheum where the opening itself narrows towards the top. (Probably some others’ steps between the Erechtheum and Lafever, I should think.) Isn’t there a better term? “Greek Key” is established as the meander pattern and the cartoon dimension in the New Orleans application is repellant.

    Thank you for any advice.

    Reply »

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