Corinthian order, most ornate of the classic orders of architecture. It was also the latest, not arriving at full development until the middle of the 4th cent. B.C. The oldest known example, however, is found in the temple of Apollo at Bassae (c.420 B.C.). The Greeks made little use of the order; the chief example is the circular structure at Athens known as the choragic monument of Lysicrates (335 B.C.). The temple of Zeus at Athens (started in the 2d cent. B.C. and completed by Emperor Hadrian in the 2d cent. A.D.) was perhaps the most notable of the Corinthian temples. The Greek Corinthian, aside from its distinctive capital, is similar to the Ionic, but the column is somewhat more slender. The capital, which may have been especially devised for circular structures, is of uncertain origin. Callimachus is the legendary originator of the design. The delicate foliated details make plausible an original in metalwork. The Romans used the Corinthian order in numerous monumental works of imperial architecture. They gave it a special base, made carved additions to the cornice, and created numerous capital variations, utilizing florid leafage and sometimes human and animal figures. The prevailing form of Roman Corinthian is seen in the Pantheon and the Maison Carrée, and it was embodied in the order as later systematized by the Italian writers of the Renaissance (e.g., Vignola). The capital joined acanthus leaves and volutes, scroll-shaped forms, in an intricate combination, and Renaissance sculptors and metalworkers, especially in Italy, France, and Spain, found in its complexity a medium for their full virtuosity. The volutes either became mere light scrolls or were replaced by birds, rams' heads, or grotesque figures. The composite order, so named by the 16th-century codifiers, is actually only a variation of the Corinthian, devised by the Romans as early as the 1st cent. A.D. by forming a capital in which were combined both Corinthian foliage and the volutes and echinus, or rounded molding, of the four-cornered type of Ionic. For the other Greek orders see Doric order and Ionic order.
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