(ἐπίκρανον, κιονόκρανον). The capital of a column, which, in the infancy of building as an art, was nothing more than a simple abacus, or square tablet of wood, placed on the top of a wooden trunk, the original column, to form a broad bed for the architrave to rest upon. From this simple beginning, it became eventually the principal ornament of a column, and a prominent feature by which the different architectural orders are distinguished; being, like them, and strictly speaking, divided into three kinds, the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian capitals, which, with the Roman alterations, make five varieties in use among the ancients; for the Tuscan is only a species of Doric; and the Composite is formed by a union of the Ionic and Corinthian, having the foliage of the latter surmounted by the volutes of the former a bastard capital introduced in the Imperial Age, when the genius for invention was succeeded by [figure in text: Doric Order. (Phigalea: Manch, pl. 11.)] a love for novelty and splendour, and first employed in the triumphal arches at Rome, where a specimen is still to be seen on the Arch of Titus. (See Columna.)
(1) Capitulum Dorcum. (a) Greek. The Greek Doric capital, which is the simplest of all, being divided into no more than three principal parts: the large square abacus at the top, retaining in this order its primitive character to the last; the echinus, or quarter round, immediately below it; and the anuli, or anulets, just above the neck of the shaft.
(b) Roman. The Doric of the Romans is more [figure in text: Doric Order. (Albano: Manch, pl. 19.)] complicated and varied in its parts. Instead of the simple abacus, they substituted a moulded cymatium and fillet; in place of the echinus, anovolo, often broken by carving, as in the example; instead of the anulets, either an astragal (astragalus), or a bead and fillet. The example is from a Roman temple near Albano.
(2) Capitulum Ioncum. (a) Greek. The Greek Ionic capital consists of two leading features: the abacus, which is smaller and lower than in the Doric, but still square in its plan, though moulded on the exterior faces; and the volutes (voluta), or spiral mouldings on each side of the front, which are [figure in text: Greek Ionic Capital. (Erechtheum, Athens: Fergusson.)] frequently connected by a pendent hem or fold, as in the example, and hang down much lower than the sculptural echinus between them.
(b) Roman. The Roman Ionic does not differ very materially, nor in its essential parts, from the Greek specimens, excepting that it is often elaborately covered with carving; the volutes are [figure in text: Roman Composite. (Arch of Titus.)] in general smaller, and the tasteful hem which hangs down between them in the preceding engraving is never introduced; but that is not to be considered as a uniform characteristic of the Greek order; it does not occur in any existing edifices.
The annexed specimen of the Roman Composite is taken from the Arch of Titus.
(3) Capitulum Corinthium. The Corinthian capital is the richest of all the pure orders, and the specimens now remaining of it in Greece and Italy do not materially differ in any characteristic point. It consists of an abacus, not square, like that of the Doric and Ionic capitals, but hollowed on the sides, and having the angles cut off, and a rosette (flos) or other similar ornament in the middle. Under the abacus [p. 273] are small volutes (helices, Vitruv. iv. 1, 12), bending downwards like stalks, two of which meet [figure in text: Corinthian Capital. (From the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli.)] under each angle of the abacus, and two in the centre of each face of the capital, where they sometimes touch, and sometimes are interwoven with each other. The whole is surrounded by two circular rows of leaves (folia), each leaf of the upper row growing between and behind those of the lower one, in such a manner that a leaf of the upper row falls in the centre of each of the four faces of the capital. In the best examples these leaves are carved to imitate the acanthus or the olive-tree. See Architectura.