BMCR 2024.02.03

Tuscanicae dispositiones sive opera dorica: architetture doricizzanti in Italia centro-meridionale

, Tuscanicae dispositiones sive opera dorica: architetture doricizzanti in Italia centro-meridionale. Bullettino della commissione archeologica comunale di Roma. Supplementi, 29. Roma: "L'Erma" di Bretschneider, 2022. Pp. 384. ISBN 9788891326805.

The aim of this book is to revise and more thoroughly define the Tuscanic order in central-southern Italy in comparison with the architectural orders elaborated in Greece, particularly Doric. Starting from the analysis of literary sources, particularly Vitruvius’ De architectura, the author seeks to define, on the one hand, the characteristics of Tuscanic, freeing it from the rigid Renaissance classification, and, on the other hand, to investigate the formation of an autonomous architectural language between the Republican and the Augustan period. The author shows that Hellenistic models were adapted, by architects, to the needs of Roman patrons, disengaged from the Greek architectural orders.

The book is divided into an introduction and three parts.

The Introduction contains a clarification of the research aims, followed by an explanation of the methodology. Furthermore, the author presents terminological aspects that are crucial for understanding the text. In particular, the term Tuscanic is used in its territorial and historical meaning, i.e. in relation to materials prior to the 3rd century BC, and thus before the process of ‘Hellenisation’. Finally, the contents of the book’s three parts are succinctly outlined by the author.

In Part 1 (“Lo stato del problema”), the interpretative problem of the meaning of the Tuscanic order is first highlighted, starting from Renaissance interpretations, which are essentially based on De architectura. The lack of interest in Hellenistic architecture and its evolutions during the Renaissance—such architecture was the basis for the elaboration of the Late Republican and Imperial Roman architectural language—generated the concept of strictly canonical orders. The author thus demonstrates how Doric forms that strayed from the canon, both in the Hellenistic and Imperial ages, were interpreted as Tuscanic. Vitruvius’ work, whilst valuable, is to be considered a synthesis of ancient architecture, predominantly based on older sources. According to the author, it is only in this context that the definition of the Tuscan order can be stated, that is, as a union of proportional and decorative rules, based on architectural buildings, generally temples from the 3rd–2nd centuries BC. The discussion is accompanied by a rigorous analysis of decorated architectural elements (bases, capitals, frames) of the Etruscan-Italic tradition in order to isolate a regional decorative tradition that predates the massive Greek influence.

In Part 2 (“Varianti del dorico greco-ellenistico [III–I sec. a. C.]”), the author shifts the focus to the eastern Mediterranean where, during the Hellenistic Age, significant variations occurred within the Doric order—which has always been regarded in modern scholarship as extremely rigid and conservative—, such as the introduction of bases or Ionic decorative elements in capitals or entablatures. Through major centres (Alexandria, Cyrene, Rhodes, and Pergamum), these variants had some influence on late Republican Roman architecture. Certain examples of bases, column shafts, capitals and entablatures are analysed in detail, revealing useful photographic documentation. In particular, at the end of the chapter, the author, briefly reviewing Doric architectural elements from the Madhia wreck, dwells en passant on a capital with a concave neck. If, as it seems, the ship’s provenance was Attica, most likely the port of Piraeus, then such a variant could not be ascribed to Italic workmanship and therefore could be separated from the Tuscanic. This is the intention that the author announced he wanted to pursue from the very beginning of the work.

Part 3 (“Sintassi dorico-doricizzanti dalla tarda età repubblicana alla fine del II sec. d. C.”) constitutes the heart of the volume, in which the Doric or “Doricizing” elements of the investigated area from late Republican architecture to the 2nd century AD are thoroughly analysed. Starting from the fact that there is a profound caesura between the 4th–3rd centuries BCE and the 2nd–1st centuries BC, brought about by new models from the Greek world, certain elements characterising the architectural orders assimilated by Rome appear; indeed, along with these elements, clear Italic ‘substrate interferences’ become evident. First of all, there is evidence of a proportional alteration in the ratio of column diameter to height, which in the Italic context is more slender; this is complemented by the introduction of single torus bases and lower capitals with smooth collars. In addition, there is a slow abandonment of the metope and triglyph decoration of the entablature; the latter, in particular, increasingly takes on decorative connotations by breaking free from the Doric columns.

Following a diachronic path, the author points out that it was during the Augustan period that the most important changes took place, freeing the Doric order from its models. This led to the elaboration of new elements such as Doric capitals that belong to a completely Roman architectural language. The author emphasises that Vitruvius, linked to Late Classical and Hellenistic treatises, may have confused some Augustan innovations, such as a revival of the Tuscanic of Italic tradition. The Doric order, thus reformulated, was also adapted in use to buildings with a practical character, such as aqueducts. In the Imperial period, it spread from central Italy mainly to the western provinces whilst the eastern provinces remained tied to tradition.

The catalogue collects, in 36 entries, monuments whose dating is fairly certain. It is divided into three parts: the first (cat. nos. 1.1A-1.11) is devoted to buildings of the late Republican period; the second (cat. nos. 2.1–2.11) to buildings of the Augustan period; and the third (cat. nos. 3.1–3.11) to Imperial buildings. Chronological and technical data are given for each building, with a descriptive section and bibliography. This is a very useful research tool, with an appreciable graphic apparatus, which the author often refers to in the text. It is also evident from the quantity of buildings analysed how their number decreased considerably in the Imperial period and became more concentrated between the end of the Republic and the time of Augustus. It is in fact in this latter phase that the major innovations of the Doric order are concentrated, which were interpreted in the Renaissance period as being related to Tuscanic.

The volume closes with a set of conclusions, useful synoptic tables of buildings, and a substantial bibliography. However, there is a lack of an analytical index or even just an index locorum, which would have been very useful for easier reference by scholars.

Overall, this study addresses, for the first time, and in a comprehensive manner whilst approaching the subject from a solid documentary basis, the intricate question of differentiating the characteristics of the Tuscanic order from the Doric of Greek origin. Kosmopoulos exhibits profound knowledge of the subject by going back to the origins of the Greek models for many buildings of the late Republican and early Imperial period that had been interpreted differently in the wake of Vitruvius.

The author of De architectura, to whom Kosmopoulos has devoted several other publications, is often quoted in the original Latin, sometimes accompanied by Pierre Gros’ always valuable translation.[1] Kosmopoulos tries, at several points in the volume, to clarify which aspects of Vitruvius’ text have been misunderstood in the wake of Renaissance interpretations. Through this, he makes it perfectly clear how many alleged Tuscan reminiscences or interferences, are, in fact, Doric decorative elements and thus innovations of Roman architects.

One point on which the author should have dwelt more concerns the decrease in the use of these elements during the Hellenistic period, especially in large peripteral temples,[2] with some exceptions, especially in the Ptolemaic kingdom. This process was attributed by Knell[3] to the greater weight given to the main facade of temples and the interest directed towards increasingly complex and terraced structured systems, within which the temple, with its front alone, constituted a scenic element. This would also determine, for Knell, the beginning of the decline of the Doric peripteros. Indeed, it cannot be excluded that the Roman architectural language was influenced by this reduction in the use of the Doric order.

One problem with the volume concerns the folding tables, which are in a larger format than the pages of the book. They are not collected after p. 347, ‘Tavole’ in the Index, but are spread out across the volume (Table1, between pp. 176–177; Table 2, between pp. 240–241; Table 3 between pp. 272–273) making them difficult for the reader to consult.

Apart from the aforementioned points, this is a valuable piece of scholarly research, with a rigorous methodological framework orientated towards expository and visual clarity. Printing errors are quite rare, which is a sign of careful and thorough revision of the text. The volume will therefore surely be appreciated and useful in studies of ancient architecture.



[1] P. Gros, Vitruve. De l’Architecture, livre IV, Paris 1992.

[2] A count of temples with peristasis between the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. is in T. Spawforth, The Complete Greek Temples, London, p. 25.

[3] H. Knell, “Dorische Ringhallentempel in spät- und nachklassischer Zeit”, JdI 98, 1983, pp. 203–233. The problems arising from the Doric-corner-conflict are for the scholar less determinant of the crisis of the Doric order. On the Doric-corner-conflict see: H.H. Büsing, “Eckkontraktion und Ensemble-Planung”, MarbWPr 1987, p. 14–46;  E.W. Osthues, “Studien zum dorischen Eckkonflikt”, JDAI 120, 2005, pp. 1–154.