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Friday, April 10, 2015

Temple of Apollo at Corinth

This Doric temple was built around the middle of the sixth century BC at Corinth.  It is largely destroyed and only seven of its columns are now standing, but it is possible to restore its plan (see the drawing) with some certainty.  The columns are of limestone and they are monolithic (they were carved from a single block, then covered with marble stucco).  The temple is peristyle (with a colonnade surrounding the whole building).  And it is hexastyle (with 6 columns on the eastern and western faςades), with 15 columns per side, for a total of 38 columns in all.  Approaching it from the east, one entered the front porch or pronaos by passing two columns in antis, i.e., positioned between the antae (an anta was the broadened end of a wall).  From there one entered the main cella (the room where the cult statue was placed), which had two rows of four interior columns each to support the ceiling.  From the west side one entered the back porch or opisthodomos, again passing two columns in antis, and from there went into a second, smaller cella with four supporting columns.  Why two cellae?  This is a puzzle.  Dörpfeld, the first excavator, thought that he was looking at a double temple in which two different gods were worshipped.  But Pausanias, who wrote a Description of Greece in the second century AD, says that the structure was sacred to only one god—Apollo.

The temple shows some refinements that anticipate those found in later buildings such as the Parthenon.  First, the monolithic limestone columns (they were carved from a single block, then covered with marble stucco) have a slight cigar-like swelling known as entasis.  Second, the stylobate (the course of masonry on which the columns stand) is slightly curved.  Third, the corner columns are inclined inward—again, only slightly.  And again, the reason for all these refinements is to defeat optical illusions that result from the human eye’s misperception of perfectly straight lines.  For example, the human eye tends to perceive a straight columnar line as concave, so making that line slightly convex (entasis) corrects that false perception.

These refinements are all the more remarkable because they made the work of designer and mason much more complicated.  Heliodorus of Larisa, writing in the first century AD, explained: “The aim of the architect is to give his work a semblance of being well-proportioned and to devise means of protection against optical illusions so far as possible, with the objective, not of factual, but of apparent equality of measurements and proportion.”

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