Author Topic: Still at it; Column Orders  (Read 9463 times)

chamfer

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Re: Still at it; Column Orders
« Reply #15 on: May 19, 2008, 10:49:20 PM »
John et al,

At the size of my sketch of cornices (as downsized for my previous post), I can see where you might think the variations are not all that great. In fact, I think they are quite significant, and meant to say something about it in that post. While it's obvious that the difference between the two extremes is huge, there is also a significant range within each order. Though the overalp between the orders tends to obscure this fact.

I thought it might be helpful to quantify these ratios in order to illustrate. If we were to assume a piece of furniture seven feet tall, these are the cornice heights (rounded to the nearest 1/32") for the various ratios:

1:18       -     4  21/32"

A. 3:35   -     7  3/16"
B. 3:39   -     6  15/32"    Tuscan
C. 3:43 3/4 - 5  3/4"

D. 3:40   -     6  5/16"
E. 3:44   -     5  23/32"     Doric
F. 3:50    -    5  1/32"

G. 1:15   -     5  19/32"
H. 4:66   -     5  3/32"       Ionic, Corinthian & Composite
I. 4:75    -     4  1/2"

Looking at the Ionic order, for example, it might seem that a difference of a little over an inch between G and I isn't all that significant. However, if you were to mock up the same cornice moulding at the two different sizes and offer them up to an appropriately sized piece of furniture, I think you might be shocked by how much of an impact the difference makes.

And, yes, I think it does come down to a matter of judgment, based on the overall size of the piece (including the width), other existing proportions, the surroundings, etc. Though, I think that using such ratios as a starting point, first on paper, then, possibly, in mock-ups, could be a very good way to begin the process of figuring things out.

The matter of scale always makes it difficult to tell such things from drawings or photographs. For this reason, any serious study of proportions of existing furniture is best done through accurate measurments of the pieces themselves.

Don McConnell
Eureka Springs, AR

walkerg

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Re: Still at it; Column Orders
« Reply #16 on: May 20, 2008, 08:07:36 AM »
Concerning Dean's question on stacking the orders. As with most areas of classical design there are few specific rules but there is a principle at work. Typically on a vertical plane one should avoid repetition. The Romans answer to this problem when they began building mutlti story buildings was to superimpose the orders on each succesive floor so that each floor is slightly shorter than the one below it. The column diameter is smaller at the capital so by starting the next floor with the smaller diameter it makes the next story shorter. They usually used a Doric on the bottom progressing up through an Ionic and Corinthian. If you would use only one order for all floors the succesive stories would diminish too dramatically. We use the principle in graduated drawers to break up the monotonous repetition of stacked elements. Don't bother with stacking classic orders though to arive at a method, just understand the principle behind it and use the width of the drawer divider to reduce each opening to achieve the effect.
It's tempting to want to look for rules that will give us step by step instructions on design. Sort of a paint by numbers approach. Instead we can learn more if we look for the principles underlying, and study good models to see how those principles can be applied. For example, a Roman Corinthian classic order offers a great lesson in laying out decorative carving. It is often the most elaborativley carved. Notice though, that the is carving intersperced with plane surfaces. In fact the plane surfaces are larger than the carved surfaces. That's very important, too much ornament can make a design look like a briar patch and not allow the eye to focus and enjoy.

George Walker
George Walker - hobbiest 25 years, pretty much a hand tool guy, fascinated with 18th century classical design.

walkerg

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Re: Still at it; Column Orders
« Reply #17 on: May 20, 2008, 08:28:49 PM »
More thoughts on sizing a cornice. My earlier references to using a classic order to locate and size a chair rail on a wall, or using an 1/18th ratio for sizing a cornice are pretty standard examples of explaining how a classic order can be applied. I wasn't my intent to define hard and fast rules for either case. Its very important to begin to be able to vissualize the inumerable ways the orders can be used. Once you begin to visualize the basic proportional principles you can more readily interpret what you are seeing. Back to the cornice example, for a piece of case furniture it's inspired by a classic order but typically in a much modified form. Designers understood well that as elements are scaled larger or smaller, adjustments must be made. For example, a colunm over 30 feet high needs less taper because of the effects of perspective at the greater height. For corninces, most of the design books offered scaled down versions for door and window treatments more appropriate to the smaller up close application. My thought is that most moldings for furniture were scaled down versions of the door and window treatments. Less projection, often even eliminating a freize or bed mold etc. That being said, the underlying principle is that the cornice should have a proportional link to the case below it. As always classical design is about studying good models and using them to train our eye and guide us. The classic order being the original model and the key to understanding all that is inspired by it.

George Walker
George Walker - hobbiest 25 years, pretty much a hand tool guy, fascinated with 18th century classical design.

johnah5

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Re: Still at it; Column Orders
« Reply #18 on: May 21, 2008, 10:43:52 PM »
I think you may have brought us to a conclusion on this topic.  I spoke to a very accomplished cabinet maker who has made numerous period pieces.  When I asked about column orders his response was that he does not use them, instead he is making things based on the following; a historical piece, a piece that has to look right in a given room (ceiling height etc taken into consideration) and whatever size router bit or cutter he has on hand.  He acknowledged column orders but just was not designing/modifying based on them.

I am beginning to conclude that the orders were and inspiration as George has said but other factors outweighed any rigid set of rules based on an order, such as the tools on hand and possibly the stock on hand.  So in the end, say 1/18th, 1/5 or 1/6 may only be a great place to start and not an integral clue to a hidden system.

Just another thought...

Regards
John


walkerg

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Re: Still at it; Column Orders
« Reply #19 on: May 22, 2008, 04:25:17 PM »
John,

I'm not so sure we have concluded this topic as much as just begun it. Classical design is a tradition that goes back 2600 years and is our direct link with the period artisans that SAPFM is devoted to keeping alive. Several times in history the in depth knoweledge of that design language has been lost only to resurface in unlikely places (18th century American colonies for example). It's true that very few modern artisans now have a working knoweledge of the classical approach that was common to our forebears, that does not in any way make it irelevent. Thirty years ago hand tool makers had pretty well died out and it was very difficult to find good information about how to tune a hand plane, let alone use it. Now we have a tremendous resurgence of both tool makers and users who are refilling the gaps in our lost hand tool heratage. If we had all stuck to router bits and sandpaper back then, the craft would have lost a great deal. Think of the study of the classic orders on par with an artist learning the basics of the color wheel, and the effects of light and shadow and perspective. True, you can paint without that knowledge, a good copiest may even be able to produce a marvelous rendition of a master work. But think how much is missed. Our forebears routinely studied and copied the great masterpieces they had access to, that is part of the classical tradition. The focus though was always so they could understand the original master. This is still relevant and can bring tremendous vigor into your woodworking experiance if you let it. A little bit like learning to use a good finish plane. The learning curve can be a bit steep at first, but the rewards more than compensate.

George Walker
George Walker - hobbiest 25 years, pretty much a hand tool guy, fascinated with 18th century classical design.

johnah5

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Re: Still at it; Column Orders
« Reply #20 on: May 22, 2008, 11:17:38 PM »
Thanks George,

Good point.  I could use some direction however.  There is too much old material out there for me to start on.  I am going to try to locate 18th century furniture here in Indianapolis to look at, and hopefully take measurements.  Would appreciate any direction on where to continue so I can attempt to absorb some of these mysteries.

Regards
John

Adam Cherubini

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Re: Still at it; Column Orders
« Reply #21 on: May 23, 2008, 11:53:12 AM »
If you walk around the furniture wing of an art museum like Philly, you quickly see that similar pieces have all the variety of the human body.  But like the human body, the differences are subtle variations of the same basic shape. 

Leonardo Da Vinci started his work with a few basic proportion rules.  He split the body into 6 or 8 equal parts vertically.  He superimposed a grid system based on his dissections, direct observations, and observations of ancient sculptures.  These represented a baseline from which his self portrait or the mona lisa was done.   

Philadelphia has several of Thomas Eakins drawings that he did as preparation for his paintings.  The drawings are carefully, almost draftsmansly done, indicating fader points, horizon lines, reflections etc.  Do the finished paintings (which are adjacent to the studies) perfectly match the drawing? Of course not.

The basic proportions establish the composition of the work.  Anybody who thinks they can just wing it is....well...let's put it this way John; One's work will improve if one uses the classical proportions.  I don't think you have to hold to the dimensions to the third decimal place.  And it's just silly to think that because we don't see that level of accuracy on 18th c furniture that no rules were used. 

For my part, until I get to be a better artist than Da Vinci, I'm going to stick with some sort of classical proportioning scheme.

Adam