1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Mouldings in Greek Architecture

(Part 52)

Mouldings in Greek Architecture

Greek architecture is distinguished for nothing more than for the grace and beauty of its mouldings; and it may be remarked of them generally that they are eccentric, and not regular curves. (Plate XIII.) They must be drawn, for they cannot be described or struck; so that though they may be called circular, or elliptical, it is seldom that they are really so, and if they are, it is evidently the result of chance, and not of design. Hence all attempts to give rules for striking mouldings are worse than useless; the hand alone, directed by good taste, can adapt them to their purpose, and give them the spirit and feeling which render them effective and pleasing.

The leading outline of Greek moulding is the gracefully flowing cyma. This will, indeed, be found to enter into the composition of almost everything that diverges from a right line; and even combinations of mouldings are frequently made with this tendency. It is concave above and convex below, or the reverse,; and though a long and but slightly flected line appears to connect two quickly-curving ends, it will always be found that the convexity and the concavity are in exactly the same curve, so that if the moulded surface were reversed, and the one made to assume the place, it would also have the appearance, of the other, and the effect would be the same. It is, in fact, the Hogarthian line of beauty; and it is not a little singular that Hogarth, in his well-known Analysis of Beauty, although he did not know, and indeed could not have known, the contours of Greek architectural mouldings , has given the principle of them, and, under his line of beauty, has described many of the finest Greek forms. The Roman and Italian mouldings were called Greek in his day, and he assumed them to be so; but they evidently do not agree with his theory, whereas, in principle, the now well-known Greek forms do most completely.

The cyma-recta is generally found to be more upright and less deeply flected than the cyma-reversa; it is almost always the profile of enrichments on flat surfaces, of foliage, of the covering moulding of pediments, of the undercut or hooked mouldings in antae caps, the overhanging not affecting the general principle; and it pervades, as we have said. Flected architectural lines generally, whether horizontal or vertical. The cyma-reversa has all the variety of inflection that its opposite possesses, but the line connecting its two ends is, for the most part, more horizontal, and its curves are deeper. It pervades many architectural combinations, but is most singularly evinced ion the composition of the Greek Doric capital, which is a perfect cyma-reversa, with the ends slightly but sharply flected, as it flows out of the shaft below, and turns in under the abacus above. This may not be obvious, from the annulets dividing the cyma into an ovolo and a cavetto, but the principle is clear. The cyma is the governing outline in the congeries of mouldings in bases also, as may be noticed in the Ionic and Corinthian examples quoted and referred to.

An ovolo is but the upper half of a cyma-reversa, even when it is mused as a distinct moulding, and unconnected with the waving form. The name expressed its apparent rather than its real tendency; for its contour is not that of an egg in any section, though the ornament which is carved on it, when used as a running moulding, is formed like an egg; and from that the moulding was named.

The upper torus of a base forms, with the escape or apophyge of the shaft, a perfect cyma, and the scotia and lower torus do the same; so that the torus and scotia are referable to the same principle when in composition, and they are not found together except in the combination referred to.

The bead is an independent moulding varying in contour, but it is generally the larger segment of a circle. It is used, however, sometimes to mask the waving form, and sometimes to separate it.

The cavetto, or single hollow, is part of a cyma also, as has been shown; but it is also applied independently to obviate a sharp angle, or to take from the formality of a vertical line, as in the abaci of Ionic antae caps. Its form, nevertheless, is not the segment of a circle, for the upper part of a cavetto is the most flected, and it falls below almost into a straight line.

There is a hooked moulding common in Greek architecture, particularly in the Doric antae caps, which is technically called the hawk’s beak. It is a combination of curves which cannot be described in words; but it has been already referred to in speaking of the cyma-recta, which is brought into its composition. This hawk’s beak is a completely Gothic moulding, and throws a very bold, clear shadow. It is used generally to the antae; and the fact that these were for the most part under the shadow of the peristyle, furnishes good reason for the employment of such a moulding.

The cyma-recta is never found carved, nor sunk within itself; but it sometimes has the honeysuckle, or some other ornament of the kind, wrought on it in relief, particularly when used as the covering moulding – the cymatium – or a pediment. The enrichment of the cyma-reversa consists of a contrasted repetition of its own contour meeting in a broad point below, and joining by a circular line above, making a sort of tongued or leafed ornament, whose surface is inflected horizontally also. Between the leaves a dart-formed tongue is wrought, extending from the circular flexure above to the bottom of the moulding, whose contour it takes in front alone. As this would not mitre or join well on the angels of the cyma, a honeysuckle is gracefully introduced in the manner shown in Plate XIII. This enrichment is not wrought in relief on the moulding, but is carved into it, so that the surfaces of the parts of the ornament alone retain the full outline of the cyma. The ovolo is enriched with what is called the egg and dart ornament. This will be best understood by reference to the plate. Its angles also are made with a honeysuckle, and the inflections are made in the moulding itself. The torus is sometimes enriched ornament with the interlaced ornament called the guillochos; this, too, is cut into the moulding itself. We have no Greek example of an enriched scotia, and from its form and position, which, to be effective, must be below the eye, it hardly seems susceptible of ornament which could operate beneficially. The bead is carved in spheres or slightly prolate spheroids, with two thin rings or buttons, dilated at their axes, placed vertically between them. A cavetto is not enriched at all, nor is the hawk’s-beak, except by painting, which does not appear to have been an uncommon mode of enriching mouldings among the Greeks; that is, the ornament was painted on the moulded surface instead of being carved into it. Fascias are also found enriched by painted running ornaments, such as the fret or meander, the honeysuckle, and the lotus. Sometimes plain colour was given to a member, to heighten the effect it was intended to produce. Ornaments were also painted and gilt on the coffered panels of ceilings.

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