By Calder Loth
August 31, 2011
Senior Architectural Historian for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and a member of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art’s Advisory Council
Figure 1: Vincenzo Scamozzi, title page (detail), L’Idea della Architettura Universale.
Vincenzo Scamozzi (1552-1616) (figure 1) should be regarded as a premier architect of the Italian Renaissance, one who has had a lasting impact, particularly on the architectural image of the English-speaking world. He would be but for the fact that he is overshadowed by his mentor, Andrea Palladio, whose name is practically a household word, while Scamozzi is known mainly to architectural historians. Yet we see Scamozzi’s influence around us every day, in countless examples, but chiefly in one specific detail: the diagonal volute Ionic capital. Scamozzi popularized this version of the Ionic order in his ambitious treatise, L’Idea della Architettura Universale (The Idea of a Universal Architecture), published in 1615. In Book VI of his treatise, the section on the orders, Scamozzi illustrates this form for the Ionic, and this one only. On the other hand, Palladio, in his far more famous I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (1570), offered the two-sided or parallel volute capital as the only option. As we shall see, Scamozzi’s Ionic became the winner. But before we discuss the impact of Scamozzi’s illustration, we need to investigate possible sources for the diagonal volute capital.The columns of the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum display the best known ancient example of Ionic capitals with diagonal volutes. (figure 2) Palladio published detailed drawings of the capitals in I Quattro Libri, and indeed these are the only diagonal volute Ionic capitals that he illustrated. But Palladio did not advocate their use. The temple’s drawings were among his numerous restoration drawings of ancient temples, but were not necessarily presented as images for copying. Moreover, the Saturn capitals are late. They date from the rebuilding of the temple following a fire in 283 AD, and lack the refinement and crispness of execution seen in earlier Roman details. Nevertheless, they provided a conspicuous antique precedent for the form.
Figure 2: Temple of Saturn, Rome (Loth).
The Temple of Saturn was certainly known to Scamozzi, both through Palladio’s published woodcuts and his own study of Roman ruins. Among other sites visited by Scamozzi is the Roman church of S. Maria in Trastevere (1140), whose interior is lined with columns salvaged from nearby ruins. The majority of the columns have Ionic capitals with parallel volutes, but also in the church are two ancient columns with diagonal volute Ionic capitals, probably taken from the Baths of Caracalla. (figure 3) These capitals were especially admired by Scamozzi, and provided inspiration for his own version of the Ionic.
Figure 3: Ionic Capitol, S. Maria in Trastevere (credit: op. cit., endnote 5).
While ancient examples of diagonal volute Ionic capitals are very rare, versions of it are found topping numerous ancient antique capitals in the Composite order. This prompts us to speculate that Ionic capitals of this type may have been more plentiful in Roman times than we might expect. The Composite order, of course, is so named because it combines the Ionic capital with the lower portion of the Corinthian capital, making it the most elaborate of the five orders. The columns in the vast hall of the Baths of Diocletian (298-306 AD) preserve some of the most complete ancient Composite capitals, and their Scamozzi-like diagonal volutes are clearly discernible. (figure 4) Capitals such as these may well have provided further precedent for Scamozzi.
Figure 4: Composite capitals, Baths of Diocletian, Rome (Loth).
Figure 5: Ionic of Scamozzi, L’Idea Della Architettura Universale, Book VI (detail).
Drawing on such prototypes, Scamozzi, in his L’Idea della Architettura Universale, presented the first published illustration of the diagonal volute Ionic capital intended as a model for application onto new buildings (figure 5). In his lengthy commentary on the plate in Book VI of L’Idea, showing the capital in elevation and plan, Sacmozzi states:
I will now show the plan and elevation of another Ionic capital that is partly copied from antiquity, partly based on Vitruvius and for the rest is a design I have invented and used. To this day it remains different from any other [Ionic] capital ever invented because of the concave profile of the abacus and the corner volutes that look the same whether they are viewed from the front or the side, which is not the case when capitals have volutes at the front. . . . It is the kind I have used most frequently in my buildings
It is difficult to overstress the importance of this illustration. It generated the popularity of what we may now call the Scamozzi Ionic not only in Italy but in much of northern Europe, particularly Britain and the Netherlands, and untimely in the United States.
Scamozzi’s Book VI of L’Idea, was available in the Netherlands as early as the 1620s. Dutch architect Jacob van Campen, who is credited with introducing Palladianism to his country, applied the Scamozzi Ionic to his most prestigious works, including the Mauritshuis in The Hague and the Burgerweehuis (municipal orphanage) in Amsterdam, both dating from the 1630s. (figure 6) The spread of Scamozzi’s version of classicism and his Ionic capital in the Netherlands was accelerated by the publication of a Dutch language edition of Book VI of Scamozzi’s treatise in 1640.
Figure 6: Courtyard, Burgerweehuis, Amsterdam (Loth).
Architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652) was the primary agent for introducing the Scamozzi Ionic capital to England where it was used on two of his most famous surviving works: the Queen’s house at Greenwich (begun 1616), and the Banqueting House in Whitehall (1620-1622). (figure 7) The fact that both buildings were royal commissions made the capitals fashionable for English classical architecture henceforth. Jones first encountered Scamozzi capitals while visiting several of Scamozzi’s buildings during his travels in Italy. Moreover, he met Scamozzi himself in August 1614. As for designing Ionic capitals for his own works, Jones could refer to the illustrations and instructions in his personal copy of Scamozzi’s L’Idea, which he purchased in London in 1617.
Figure 7: Banqueting House, Whitehall, London (Loth).
The fashion for the Scamozzi Ionic was greatly boosted in Britain by architect James Gibbs (1682-1754) through his two famous publications: A Book of Architecture (1728) and Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture (1732). The former work consists of Gibbs’s own designs, in which every scheme employing the Ionic order uses Scamozzi’s Ionic without exception. Likewise, in Gibbs’s Rules, an instruction book on the orders and their application, all the illustrations of the Ionic have angled volutes. Though plainer than Scamozzi’s capital in L’Idea, Gibbs’s image of the Ionic capital on Plate XIV varies little in general form. (figure 8) Both of Gibbs’s books were available in the American colonies and served to make the Scamozzi Ionic the standard version of the order for the majority of high-style colonial buildings. Indeed, other patternbooks of the period, such as those by Batty Langley, William Halfpenny, and William Pain, shamelessly plagiarized Gibbs’s plates, including his illustration of the Ionic order, for their own publications.
Figure 8: Plate XIV (detail), Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture.
One of America’s earliest surviving applications of the Scamozzi Ionic is on the portico of Drayton Hall, the South Carolina country seat of the Drayton family near Charleston. (figure 9) John Drayton, for whom the house was built, owned both the Isaac Ware edition of Palladio’s The Four Books (1738) and James Gibbs’s A Book of Architecture (1728). From Palladio, Drayton Hall borrows the two-level portico, a form employed by Palladio for several of his villa designs, and which enjoyed great popularity in America, particularly in the South. Palladio notwithstanding, John Drayton and his builders favored the Scamozzi Ionic over Palladio’s for the portico’s upper tier. Perhaps it was Gibbs’s exclusive use of the Scamozzi type on his own designs that led Drayton to think that this was the appropriate version of the order. The Scamozzi capital continued to be the preferred Ionic type for most of Charleston’s 18th-century buildings. Conspicuous examples are the Miles Brewton House portico (ca. 1769), the porch of the John Edwards house (ca. 1770), and the interior columns of St. Michael’s Church (ca. 1761).
Figure 9: Drayton Hall, South Carolina (Loth).
Peter Harrison (1716-1776), who is regarded as one of America’s first professionally trained architects and practitioners of Palladianism, relied on the Scamozzi Ionic for the embellishment of some of his principal works, including Touro Synagogue (1759-1763) and the Brick Market (1761-1773), both in Newport, Rhode Island. Harrison is known to have possessed a fine architectural library, and it undoubtedly contained both of Gibbs’s books since much of his detailing is based on Gibbs designs. The columns on Harrison’s most ambitious building, King’s Chapel, Boston (1749-1758), display a splendid application of the Scamozzi Ionic, copied almost exactly from Gibbs’s Plate XIV. (figure 10)
Figure 10: King’s Chapel, Boston (Loth).
Scamozzi’s angled volutes also found their way into colonial American interiors. For some it can be difficult to determine exactly which published work was used for reference. Whether its source was Gibbs, Langley, or some other patternbook, the interior woodwork of Carter’s Grove (1755) ranks with the most sophisticated of the period. (figure 11) Like Drayton, the hall paneling shows the influence of Palladio as well as Scamozzi. The entablature’s modillion cornice and pulvinated frieze can be traced to Palladio’s Ionic. The pilaster capitals, however, closely follow Gibbs’s illustration in Rules, although the joiner, Richard Baylis, who was brought from England for the project, was more generous with his acanthus leaves on the edges of the volutes.
Figure 11: Hall paneling, Carter’s Grove, James City County, Virginia (Loth).
Thomas Jefferson, Palladio’s greatest advocate in America, was intent on making the monumental architecture of ancient Rome, which he learned from Palladio, the inspiration for the new nation’s public architecture. Jefferson established the precedent in his first major work, the Virginia State Capitol, begun in 1785, for which he adapted the porticoed temple form. His original design called for the Capitol’s columns to be the Ionic of Palladio, with parallel volutes. French architect Charles-Louis Clerisseau, who assisted in the design, convinced Jefferson that parallel volute capitals would cause an awkward appearance for the portico’s side columns. In Jefferson’s 1821 memoir concerning the Capitol, he stated: “I yielded, with reluctance, to the taste of Clerissault [sic], in his preference of the modern capital of Scamozzi to the more noble capital of antiquity.”  (figure 12) Jefferson, nonetheless, was no stranger to Scamozzi. He owned a French edition of Book VI of Scamozzi’s L’Idea.
Figure 12: Virginia State Capitol, Richmond (Loth).
The spirit of both Vincenzo Scamozzi and James Gibbs was instilled in our most famous residence, the White House. Designed by the Irish architect, James Hoban, and completed externally in 1798, the White House follows the Anglo-Palladian tradition of Gibbs’s country house designs. Hence, the order of its Ionic pilasters is Scamozzi’s Ionic. Even so, the building’s Scottish stone masons put their own touches on the capitals by draping extra-large, somewhat droopy acanthus leaves over the Ionic volutes, and using cabbage roses instead of more generic foliage in the abacuses. These distinctive capitals were continued in the columns of the north portico, added in 1829. (figure 13)
Figure 13: North Portico detail, The White House, Washington, D.C. (Loth).
Beginning towards the end of the 19th century, the Scamozzi Ionic capital experienced a remarkable resurgence, during of the so-called American Renaissance. Not only did it see increasing use in monumental works, the capital became a common embellishment for front porches and other parts of houses, inside and out. The spread of thousands of Scamozzi Ionic capitals across the land is due largely to their mass production by scores architectural supply companies. Thus, a turn-the-century urban neighborhood such as Richmond’s Fan District could have colonnades of Scamozzi Ionic capitals fronting the houses of entire blocks. (figure 14) Architectural supply companies continue to churn out Scamozzi capitals, making them readily available today for traditional buildings everywhere.
Figure 14: Fan District porches, Richmond, Virginia (Loth).
It may be no exaggeration to claim that the staggering quantity of this distinctive Ionic order stems from a single illustration published nearly 400 years ago. Perhaps the derivation and value of Scamozzi’s Ionic was best expressed by Sir William Chambers, who wrote in his 1759 Treatise on the Decorative Part of Civil Architecture:
. . . the angular capital invented by Scamozzi, or imitated and improved by him, from the Temple of Concord, or borrowed from some modern compositions extant in his time, ought to be employed; for the distorted figure of the antique capital, with one volute straight and the other twisted, is very perceptible, and far from being pleasing to the eye. 
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