Creating Simple Classical Moulding Profiles – The Wild Wild West
Creating simple classical moulding profiles should be easy. Right? That’s what I thought when I began this “little project” back in June. Little did I know… As I worked on the previous two classical moulding posts, I learned I had two misconceptions.
- Understanding/translating and interpreting the Classical Orders is like stepping into Rocky and Bullwinkle’s “Way Back Machine” and visiting the Wild Wild West. Let’s just say it felt like there were 7 sheriffs in town, each with their own set of laws as I tried to make sense of multiple interpretations of the Orders, each with its own set of rules and guidelines.
- Once I got the Orders sorted out, I thought, “With all the interior trim resources out there, I can easily create simple classical moulding profiles, such as entablatures and cornices, using stock profiles.” It took me hours!!! My dirty little secret? It’s faster and less expensive to just call me and ask me to design/draw exactly what you want than it is to ask me to rummage thru catalogues and websites. (Click the re-play button on the lower left to see the the video again.)
Since I was frequently confused by the archi-babble I encountered working on these posts (and this is my day job), to help you understand the jargon I will be using throughout the rest of the post, the following video shows you the location of the cornice, frieze, architrave, crown and bed moulding in an entablature.
The Wild Wild West
In this post, I will focus on my first misconception, with a glimpse into the Wild Wild West of the Classical Orders. I drew Tuscan Order entablatures based on Vignola and Palladio (16th Century), James Gibbs (18th Century) and Asher Benjamin (19th Century) to illustrate differences and similarities between these simple classical mounding profiles.
I want you to look closely at the subtle differences/similarities in proportion and trim profiles below. Consider why. Is it the material they most worked with? Available technology? Is it a reflection of the style and culture of the time?
Vignola’s Tuscan Order entablature is the only one that uses a bed moulding profile for the crown at the top of the cornice of the entablature. The bed moulding he uses at the bottom of the cornice is quite small and rather delicate compared to the other Palladio, Gibbs and Benjamin. His is the only “one piece” architrave. As I look at the entablature assembly, it is visually heavy. I find myself wondering if this is a reflection of the predominant material he worked with – stone.
Much of Palladio’s work was in stone as well. While Vignola’s profiles were utilitarian, Palladio’s are more decorative – softer, more fluid and integrated. Look at at the bed moulding at the bottom of the cornice. Note how it reaches upward and outward toward the crown moulding, which echoes the bed with its curves. The architrave is expressed in two parts, adding more visual texture to the assembly. Plaster would be the perfect medium for creating this simple classic moulding profile.
James Gibbs practiced architecture in England during the 18th Century. If you have ever visited the Victoria Albert Museum in London you have seen one of his surviving works of architecture. Overall, the proportions of the profiles in his entablature are smaller and more delicate in scale. While the actual profiles are different, you can see Palladio’s influence in the profile of the bed and crown moulding in Gibbs’ cornice. Like Palladio, his architrave is in two parts, although their proportions are different.
Asher Benjamin’s pattern books have influenced New England’s architects and builders well into the 20th Century, acting as inspiration and guide, illustrating how to adapt simple classical moulding profiles to the scale and materials used to build it’s communities, homes and interiors. His entablature differs in a number of ways. The Greek influence can be seen in his use of an ellipse profile in the cornice bed moulding. (Personally, I think this profile is sexy.) His cornice is shallower and reaches out into the room more. There is larger frieze. My theory is this was his response to rooms with low ceilings. By reworking the overall proportions in this manner, he gives such rooms the illusion of more height.
The Take aways
Four sheriffs. Different rules. Yet, as this video clip shows. All very much the same family.
So what can we take away from studying these four architects? There are 4 major points.
- There is an organizational structure used to create simple classical moulding profiles. (It varies from author to author, but there is always a structure.)
- The Orders should be used as guidelines, as opposed ‘this is the only way’. (More on that in my next post.)
- The scale of trim needs to adjust to the scale of of room.
- Trim used to create simple classical moulding profiles became more decorative over time.
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