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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Examples of Ionic volutes. From Julien David LeRoy, Les ruines plus beaux des monuments de la Grèce, Paris, 1758 (Plate XX)

A volute is a spiral scroll-like ornament that forms the basis of the Ionic order, found in the capital of the Ionic column. It was later incorporated into Corinthian order and Composite column capitals. Four are normally to be found on an Ionic capital, eight on Composite capitals and smaller versions (sometimes called helix) on the Corinthian capital.[1]

The word derives from the Latin voluta ("scroll"). It has been suggested that the ornament was inspired by the curve of a ram's horns, or perhaps was derived from the natural spiral of the ovule of a common species of clover native to Greece. Alternatively, it may simply be of geometrical origins.[2]

The ornament is used as an element of Renaissance and Baroque architecture and is a common decoration in furniture design, silver and ceramics. A method of drawing the complex geometry was devised by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius from classical buildings and structures.


  1. ^ "Volute". A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. James Stevens Curl. Oxford University Press 2006
  2. ^ "Volute". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology. Timothy Darvill. Oxford University Press, 2002

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

VOLUTE (Lat. volutum, volvere, to roll up), in architecture, the spiral scroll of the capital of the Ionic order. As in the earliest example known, that of the archaic temple of Diana at Ephesus, the width of the abacus is twice that of the depth, constituting therefore a bracket-capital; it is probable that at first it consisted of an oblong block of timber, which, raised on a vertical post or column, lessened the bearing of the architrave or beam, and the first volutes or scrolls were painted on. In votive columns carrying a sphinx, as at Delphi, or statues, the oblong form of capital with largely developed volutes was long retained, but in the porticoes of the Greek temples the abacus was made square and the volute diminished in projection on each side. In the side elevation the portion of the capital which joins the two volutes is known as the cushion, and when the Ionic column was used in porticoes in the capitals of the angle columns the volute was brought outon the diagonal, so as to present the same design on front and side; this, however, at the back led to a very awkward arrangement with two half volutes at right angles to one another, which was not of much importance under the portico, but when, in the open peristyle of the Pompeian house, it faced the open court, another design was necessary, and the angle volute was employed on all four sides. A similar arrangement was devised by Ictinus for the capitals in the interior of the temple at Bassae (430 B.C.), and was employed in the semidetached columns of the raised stage at Epidaurus. The Romans adopted the angle volute in the temple of Fortuna Virilis at Rome, but, except in their porticoes and as semidetached between arches, the Ionic order was rarely employed by them, and few Roman examples are known.

The architects of the Revival in the 16th century entirely misunderstood the origin and meaning of the volutes (the upper fillet of which was always carried horizontally across under the abacus in Greek and Roman work), and mistook them for horns, which they turned down into the echinus moulding.

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