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Parliament of Victoria - the Greek influence

How a misguided idea can become reality through negligence and ignorance

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25 January 2018

This meteoric analysis is an attempt to paraphrase Roman revival (or Victorian-era architecture elsewhere) as a combination of the Ancient Greek Corinthian and Doric order, in the colonnade at least, of the majestic structure of the Victorian Parliament, defined in the literature periphery to tourists in Melbourne. We would like to harmonise the tome and the method the structure material hypes its own colonnade. We have observed how these are described and we theorise that the chronicle endows a great deal to be enthused about.

Thomas Jefferson
According to the Columbia Encyclopaedia 6th ed, Thomas Jefferson in 1785 firstly designed the Virginia State Capitol in the United States at Richmond, marking it as the return to the monumental "Roman temple". Jefferson was inspired by what he called "Roman" architecture, not bothering to search any deeper as to where this architecture originated from and in order to make things simpler for he called it Roman Revival.
As citizens of this world we owe a lot to Thomas Jefferson in the way of architecture development because if it was not for him we probably would not have revisited these ancient architectural style orders, which would mean that they may not have been used as architectural styles portraying the grandeur they portray in the US, Britain, Australia, and elsewhere.

However in this day and age we have to be inspired by the desire and ability, provided by scholars as well as technology, to attempt a more detailed examination of the style of the columns at the Virginia State Capitol building. There we'll observe that, yes it resembles Roman architecture and the column design is of a certain architectural style and column order which was defined at least 50 to 250 years prior to Jefferson to be the Ionico or Ionic. Almost 200 years earlier than Jefferson, an Italian by the name Sebastiano Serlio, the first mannerist architect, also described the five column orders in his fourth book, Regole generali di architettura sopra le cinque maniere de gli edifici (1537).

Five ancient column orders
According to the drawing, the image of which is held in the US Library of Congress and is of an unknown architect / archaeologist virtually copying Serlio, there are five styles of columns defined in ancient building architecture:
1. Toscane (The Tuscan, and the simplest of the five classical orders, designed by the Etruscans),
2. Dorico (Greek style, the word meaning Doric, a style developed by the first inhabitants of the Greek peninsula the Dorians, or more precisely Δωριείς, 12 century BCE),
3. Ionico (Greek style, a word meaning Ionic, being the style developed by the Ionians),
4. Corinthio (Greek style developed by the Corinthians, the Corinthio word meaning Corinthian) and
5. Composito (according to the Classical Orders of Architecture is a Roman designed column style that combines the Greek-designed Ionic and the Corinthian orders of architecture).

The Iconic five column capitals depicted in 1734 CE.

The person who drew the five styles in the drawing knew something about ancient Greek colonnade origins because they called them Dorico (Δορικό), Ionico (Ιονικό), Corinthio (Κορίνθιο); notice the letter 'o' at the end of each word denoting the cultural origin of that word.

However in 1734, it never occurred to Jefferson to examine why the style is called Corinthio, Ionico, or Dorico and because of his apparent ignorance of Greek architecture styles he called it all Roman Classical Style, placing all the column orders in the same category. In reality he was only talking about the Ionic style architectural order, judging by the capital of the columns in the Virginia State Capitol. Drawing a parallel would be like describing electric drills invented in Melbourne by Arthur James Arnot as an Asian invention.

Toscano columns were developed by the Etruscans (not the Romans) from Tuscany/Etruria in the 5th century BCE. The Greeks had a large influence on the Etrurian culture as we learn from the Greek and Latin texts that survived. Etruria was referred to in Greek and Latin source texts as Tyrrhenia Greek: Τυρρηνία. The Etruscan civilisation was responsible for much of the Greek culture imported into early Republican Rome, including the 12 Olympian gods, the growing of olives and grapes, the Latin alphabet (adapted from the Greek alphabet), and Greek architecture like the arch and the column orders, sewerage and drainage systems. The Roman Republic was established in 509 BCE but only took over the Etruscans in the first century BCE.

Corinthian column order
Corinthian columns appear in a large number of buildings around the world including the entrance of the rotunda at the University of Virginia, a building that is of a circular structure. The most comprehensive account of the Corinthian order wrote Vitruvius (c. 70-15 BCE): "Corinthian columns have all their proportions like the Ionic, with the exception of their capitals. The height of the capitals renders them proportionately higher and more slender, because the height of the Ionic capital is one third of the thickness of the column that of the Corinthian as the whole diameter of the shaft. Therefore because two-thirds of the diameter of the Corinthian columns are added to the capitals they give an appearance of greater slenderness owing to the increase in height."

Also noted by Vitruvius that it "is an imitation of the slenderness of a maiden; for the outlines and limbs of maidens, being more slender on account of their tender years, admit of prettier effects in the way of adornment".

Even in the Tuscan the shaft is slender, with proportions similar to a Greek Ionic column. The Tuscan capital also resembles the Greek Doric column from Ancient Greece. This reinforces the point that the Etruscans were inspired by Greek architecture, something every scholar of the classics knows about, and they (the Etruscans) created this new style using earlier ideas.

Another definition of the Corinthian order explains why it's an imitation of the slenderness of a maiden (as per Vitruvius again). It is related, and myth has it, that the original discovery of this form of capital was as follows:
A freeborn maiden of Corinth, just of marriageable age, was attacked by an illness and passed away. After her burial, her nurse, collected a few little things which used to give the girl pleasure while she was alive, put them in a basket, carried it to the tomb, and laid it on top covering it with a roof tile so that the things might last longer than in the open air. This basket happened to be placed just above the root of an acanthus. The acanthus root, pressed down meanwhile though it was by the weight, when springtime came round put forth leaves and stalks in the middle, and the stalks, growing up along the sides of the basket, and pressed out by the corners of the tile through the compulsion of its weight, were forced to bend into volutes at the outer edges. Just then Callimachus ... passed by this tomb and observed the basket with the tender young leaves growing round it. Delighted with the novel style and form, he built some columns after that pattern for the Corinthians, determined their symmetrical proportions, and established from that time forth the rules to be followed in finished works of the Corinthian order. (Vitruvius' On the Corinthian Capital, translated.)

Another scholar by the name of William Stearns Davis describes the Corinthian column:
"While we look upward at this group of temples and their wealth of sculptures, let us state now something we have noticed during all our walks around Athens, but have hitherto left without comment. Every temple and statue in Athens is not left in its bare white marble, as later ages will conceive is demanded by 'Greek Architecture'and statuary, but is decked in brilliant colour - 'painted' if you will use an almost unfriendly word. The columns and gables and ceilings of the buildings are all painted. Blue, red, green, and gold blaze on all the members and ornaments. The backgrounds of the pediments, metopes, and frieze are tinted some uniform colour on which the sculptured figures in relief stand out clearly. The figures themselves are tinted or painted, at least on the hair, lips, and eyes. Flesh-coloured warriors are fighting upon a bright red background. The armour and horse trappings on the sculptures are in actual bronze. The result is an effect indescribably vivid. Blues and reds predominate: the flush of light and colour from the still more brilliant heavens above adds to the effect. Shall we call it garish? We have learned to know the taste of Athenians too well to doubt their judgment in matters of pure beauty. And they are right."

Under an Athenian sky
Temples and statues demand a wealth of colour which, in a sombre clime, would seem intolerable. The brilliant lines of the Acropolis buildings are the just answer of the Athenian to the brilliancy of Helios.

Doesn't this account by Davis remind us of the "wealth of colour" we meet inside the Parliament of Victoria?

As a result, and to conclude, below we have in chronological order what is appearing in the initial five ancient column style drawing above (we do not have the exact dates of when each style was firstly designed, however we can deduct from evidence that survived the following):
1. Doric, the most ancient Greek style column design (ca 1,000 BCE)
2. Ionic, the classical Greek style (ca 800 BCE)
3. Tuscan inspired by the two earlier Greek styles in its design (ca 500 BCE)
4. Corinthian, Greek style (ca 300 BCE)

Composite combining two other Greek styles in its design and a Roman form of the Corinthian order (ca 82 BCE)

Parliament of Victoria
In the history section of the Victorian Parliament website ( and in the literature circulated, the building is called the "Roman revival style", without defining what that style is, where it came from, or why it is called Roman, and who named it Roman?

Be that as it may, the columns in the Victorian Parliament, at least at Queen's Hall, resemble a Corinthian capital full of colour. Yet, to our amazement, they are called Roman-style columns.

This reminds me about another misguided idea: the medal designed and constructed for the 2000 Sydney Olympics by the Olympic Committee, bearing the Roman Colosseum. This building obviously had nothing to do with the Olympics. Luckily for Australia, Professor George Kanarakis from Charles Sturt University uncovered the mistake just before the games for the fear that the Olympics Committee was in danger of calling the Olympics "Roman"!
To cut this long story short, we have five ancient column styles as defined in 1537 and 1734, three of distinctive Greek origin (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian) and two of Roman design but with extensive Greek influence and base (Tuscan, Composite). Yet, some are calling all the column styles Roman revival, when in fact if anything we know they're closer to a Greek revival.

The request here is for revised attention and a more detailed definition to the naming of the style for the Victorian Parliament. The exterior columns resemble a Doric order whilst the interior/Queen's Hall upper resembles a Corinthian style order and lower an Ionic order. The Legislative Assembly Chamber also has Ionic style capitals. It is a well-known fact that any building in the world which is designed with columns at the entrance is said to be copying an Ancient Greek temple. More than that, the meander design at the base of the outer building balconies as well as the fluting on external columns, their Greek Corinthian-style base and the triglyph on the frieze gives this wonderful building created between 1856 and 1893 a Colonnade character not represented by the definition "Roman revival". Roman revival is a generalised characterisation that does not conform to historical or architectural fact.

- T Hamlin, Greek Revival Architecture in America (1944); D. Wiebenson, Sources of Greek Revival Architecture (1969).
- Vitruvius, On the Corinthian Capital, Book IV, Chapter 1, translation from Latin.
- Columbia University Press, The Columbia Encyclopaedia, 6th ed., 2015. - Sebastio Serlio, Regole generali di architettura sopra le cinque maniere de gli edifice, fourth book, 1537
- William Stearns Davis, A Day in Old Athens, 2013
- P Kerr, The Melbourne Houses of Parliament, Royal Victorian Institute of Architects, 2, 1904
- Library of Congress, online Jan 2016
- Parliament of Victoria, History of Parliament House,, Jan 2016
- Wikipedia, Etruria,, Jan 2016
- Wikipedia, Composite order,, Jan 2016
- Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, Architectural Styles Categories,, Jan 2016.

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