The Architecture of Robert Adam (1728-1792)



essay by Julian.Small






The Composite Order was developed late in the Roman period as an enriched version of the Corinthian Order.  The volutes of the Ionic Order were combined with the acanthus leaves of the normal Corinthian capital, in order to give an even richer and more elaborate effect than would either of these two orders.  The details of the columns and of the entablature otherwise resemble those of the Corinthian Order. The Ionic and Corinthian Orders are two of the three Greek Orders of Architecture, but as has already been said, the Composite Order was used only by the Romans. 

Apart from one or two buildings dating from fairly early in his independent career, such as the Diocletian Wing at Bowood House in Wiltshire, Robert Adam very rarely used the Composite Order, and does not seem to have done so at all on any of the buildings he built in, or designed for, the City of Edinburgh.  Indeed, he wrote in 1774: 

the Composite, or Roman Order, in our opinion, is a very disagreeable and awkward mixture of the Corinthian and Ionic, without grace or beauty.

In arguing this, Adam was, perhaps deliberately, challenging Palladian orthodoxy, asserting the right of the individual architect to be creative rather than following the rigid rules laid down by Vitruvius and Palladio. 

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