Looking over two photographs of columns at the William Hall Free Library, in Cranston, R.I., where I will be speaking at 3 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday), I noticed that each has the same style of column capital, but there are notable differences in their personalities. The apparently happier interior columns, pictured above, have Corinthian capitals while the more subdued exterior columns, pictured below, have Ionic capitals.
Really? Well, perhaps.
Frankly, I can’t figure out what kind of capitals these are. The interior capitals seem more Corinthian because their acanthus leaves are not as subsidiary to their volutes – the features that look like scrolls – as in the true Ionic. On the capitals of the exterior, the volutes are more dominant, but not as dominant or as large as is customary in an Ionic capital. And there are no little baby volutes at play among the acanthus. The whole matter is further obscured by the existence of a style called Composite – a mixture of Ionic and Corinthian – and these may actually be Composites of differing emphasis.
The architect, George Frederick Hall (no relation to William Hall, the library’s namesake), is not with us to clear up the confusion.
Note, too, that both the interior and exterior columns are smooth, without the long vertical indentations known as fluting, supposedly characteristic of the Ionic, Corinthian and Composite orders. Only the Tuscan and Doric of the main five orders are without fluting, and neither the interior nor the exterior capitals of the Hall Free Library are Tuscan or Doric.
The more reserved of the two capitals is the exterior version upholding the portico of the library. On the exterior, which is pictured below, there are no minor volutes (the scroll-like features) between the major volutes at each “corner” of the capital. I put corner in quotes because these columns are round and round doesn’t do corners, does it? Furthermore, the acanthus leaves outside are more orderly. On the interior, they are more relaxed. The exterior capitals seem to reflect a desire to stand up straight with no silly business, whereas the interior capitals seem to do a better job of reflecting the fact that they are in a library, where people still get to enjoy books.
Maybe at night the interior columns get down and cavort among the books. The exterior columns can’t really do that, so they seem to be pouting behind their cloak of superior dignity. On the other hand, is it possible to detect a hint of Art Deco in the composition? Perhaps at night these columns hop down on the lawn to Jitterbug. After all, the library was completed in 1927, at the height of the Roaring ’20s, the Jazz Age. Well, just a thought.
So it seems that there is a lot of disobedience (civil, of course) in the classical orders. Under these conditions, it would be interesting to hear an expert in classical architecture describe the difference between error and invention in the orders. Don’t ask me! My claim to expertise is highly dubious, but if you show up at the Hall tomorrow and ask, I will try my best to answer.