1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Ancient Egyptian Architecture: Columns; Pilasters; Entablatures.

(Part 16)

Ancient Egyptian Architecture (cont.)


In the rock-cut tombs and temples we come to the earliest forms of columnar architecture now existing; and Sir Gardner Wilkinson considers that he can trace the process by which the plain, square, uncarved pier was gradually developed into the ornamental column of complete Egyptian style. Thus, in the case of the plain pier. The first thing was to cut off the angles, making it an octagon; a second cutting produced a 16 sided column. The sides slightly curved formed flutes, and a large slab on the top brought the whole to much the appearance of a rude Doric column.

Suppose, however, that the pier was painted on each side with the stem and bud or flower of a plant, e.g., the lotus. The figure would be cut in intaglio; the plain spaces between being then cut away, the column would represent 4 or 8 stalks, supporting buds in flower conjoined. These would be united together by sculptured bands, and the whole would form one column of 4 or 8 stalks, supporting a capital.

Sir G. Wilkinson has classed Egyptian columns into eight orders. First, The square pillar, or post of stone. This often has a line of hieroglyphics running down it vertically. Second, The polygonal column, plain or fluted. This is sometimes painted, or otherwise ornamented with devices. Third, The bud capital, or one formed like a bud of the papyrus. Of this there are three varieties. The oldest, from Beni Hassan, is composed of four plants bound together by a sort of necking of fine bands under the buds, the columns coming down of eight similar shafts, capitals, and necking; but there are similar bands or necking on the bud itself, and the sort of short rods or reeds, descending vertically from the necking on the sides of the column. The third variety has a single circular shaft, without any indication of the united water plants, but still with bands round the necking, and the capital itself. In these two last varieties the lower part of the shaft is generally ornamented with a sort of sheath or spathe, resembling the lower part of a water plant.

In the fourth order the capital is like an inverted bell. It formerly was called the lotus capital, but in reality it has no resemblance to that flower. The capital is much undercut that the ornaments on its edge are not visible, except to a spectator who is immediately beneath them.

The fifth order is the palm tree column, and resembles the head of that tree, with the lower or drooping boughs cut off. The neckings are composed of five bands, but have the peculiarity of a piece hanging down like a knot at the end. These columns are found as early as the time of Amenoph III. In the time of the Ptolemies the shafts came straight down to the plinths, and were not drawn in at the bottom as in the earlier periods.

The sixth order is called the Isis-headed order, the capital being formed of one or more heads of that deity, surrounded by a representation of a doorway, or small shrine with an image, and sometimes a votary worshipping placed over it. At Dendera the faces, exclusive of the head-dress, are five feet across. Sometimes the Isis head is formed on a square or polygonal column. Sometimes the head is that of Author, the Venus of the Egyptians. In this order also are included the capitals at the tomb of Rhombuses III, at Thebes. These are the heads of cows painted blue and red, and with long reverted horns.

The seventh is called the composite order. The shafts are generally round, and the capitals, as the name imports, are a mixture of styles. The bell and palms, or the palm and the Iris head, are frequently found in combination. A most curious instance is ranked under this style, of columns of the third order with inverted shafts, and also inverted capitals, taken from Karnak, the work of Thothmes III.

The eighth order is called the Osiride, from containing statues of the deity Soirees. The order is something like the Persian, or the Caryatides of Greeks and Romans; but it differs, inasmuch as the figure does not support the entablature, but stands in front of a square pier which discharges that duty. This order is sometimes used in the courts and sometimes in the halls. Grotesque figures of Typhoon are found in a building called the Typhonic at Brachial. These, however, partly support the entablature with their odd-shaped caps.

The following list of heights, diameters, and distances between the columns, selected from those given by Canina and Sir G. Wilkinson, shows at one view the peculiarities of the various styles:-



These are employed in all ages, though they do not always accord with the order of the columns. For instances, at Thebes the pilasters of the Temple in antis of Dayr el Medeeneh are of the sixth or Iris-headed order, while the columns between are of the seventh or composite order. They are generally square, and without diminution.


These are nearly alike all orders, and may be described as a cornice and architrave without a frieze. The former consist of a fillet or regula, beneath which is what is generally called a large hollow or cavetto; but in reality the upper half is a quarter round, and the lower nearly straight. Under this moulding is a bold torus which separates the cornice from the architraves, and runs down the sloping sides of the angles of the building to the ground. The cornice is generally occupied by the winged globe, or emblem of the Good Daemon. The torus is often ornamented as if strings were bound round a bundle of sticks , like the fasces of a Roman lictor. On the upper part of the smaller cornices there is often a row like the antefixae of a Greek temple, but their form is peculiar, and is supposed to represent the post in which the mummies of the sacred cats and ibis were preserved. The architraves are plain, without being broken into fasciae, and are generally covered with hieroglyphics.

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