Find Out About the Tuscan Column

Roman Classical Architecture

Detail of the four-row colonnade at the 17th century Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City
The 17th century Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City. Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The Tuscan column — plain, without carvings and ornaments — represents one of the five orders of classical architecture and is a defining detail of today's Neoclassical style building. Tuscan is one of the oldest and most simple architectural form practiced in ancient Italy. In America, the column named after the Tuscany region of Italy is one of the most popular column types to hold up front porches.

From the bottom up, any column consists of a base, a shaft, and a capital. The Tuscan column has a very simple base upon which sets a very simple shaft. The shaft is usually plain and not fluted or grooved. The shaft is slender, with proportions similar to a Greek Ionic column. At the top of the shaft is a very simple, round capital. The Tuscan column has no carvings or other ornamentation.

" Tuscan order: the simplest of the five Roman classical orders and the only one that has smooth columns rather than ones with fluting" — John Milnes Baker, AIA

Tuscan and Doric Columns Compared

A Roman Tuscan column resembles a Doric column from ancient Greece. Both column styles are simple, without carvings or ornaments. However, a Tuscan column is traditionally more slender than a Doric column. A Doric column is stocky and usually without a base. Also, the shaft of a Tuscan column is usually smooth, while a Doric column usually has flutes (grooves). Tuscan columns, also known as Tuscany columns, are sometimes call Roman Doric, or Carpenter Doric because of the similarities.

Origins of the Tuscan Order

Historians debate when the Tuscan Order emerged. Some say that Tuscan was a primitive style that came before the famous Greek Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders. But other historians say that the Classical Greek Orders came first, and that Italian builders adapted Greek ideas to develop a Roman Doric style that evolved into the Tuscan Order.

Buildings with Tuscan Columns

Considered strong and masculine, Tuscan columns were often used for utilitarian and military buildings. In his Treatise on Architecture, the Italian architect Sebastiano Serlio (1475–1554) called the Tuscan order "suitable to fortified places, such as city gates, fortresses, castles, treasuries, or where artillery and ammunition are kept, prisons, seaports and other similar structures used in war."

Centuries later, builders in the United States adopted the uncomplicated Tuscan form for wood-framed Gothic Revival, Georgian Colonial Revival, Neoclassical, and Classical Revival homes with simple, easy-to-construct columns. Residential examples abound in the U.S:

  • Long Branch Estate, north portico: The plantation in Millwood, Virginia was built in the Federal style in 1813. When porticos and columns were added around 1845, the house style became Classical (or Greek) Revival. Why? The columns, Tuscan in the North and Ionic columns in the South, are features of Classical architecture. Many antebellum plantation homes were adorned with Tuscan columns, including the Rosalie Mansion, Natchez, Mississippi.
  • A Georgian Colonial Revival Home: Adding a portico with columns, even simple columns, can add grandeur to a home — and affect the entire style.
  • A Cottage With Tuscan Columns: The Tuscan column is seen throughout the world in residential architecture. Carpenters could easily shave and shape long wooden pieces to desired heights. Today, manufacturers produce all types of columns from all types of materials. If you live in a historic district, however, the type of column and how it's made is very important when repairs are necessary.
  • Multi-Family Home in Salem, Massachusetts: Slender and unornamented, Tuscan columns are perfect to support the height of multi-story front porches. By painting them the same color as the molding, rails, and trim, the columns become integrated into the design of a New England home. Tuscan columns can be found on many front porches across the U.S.

Sources

  • American House Styles: A Concise Guide by John Milnes Baker, AIA, Norton, 1994, P. 177
  • Inline photo credits: Long Branch Estate by 1811longbranch via Wikimedia commons, Creative Commons Attribution-<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en">Share Alike 3.0 Unported</a> license (cropped); Georgian Colonial Revival Home, Multi-Family Home in Salem, Massachusetts, and Typical Tuscan Porch Columns by Jackie Craven; Cottage With Columns by Karnye2004; Tuscan Columns of Rosalie Mansion, Natchez, Mississippi by Tim Graham/Getty Images (cropped); Colonnade at the University of Virginia by Jay Paul/Getty Images; St. Peter's Colonnade, Vatican City by Franco Origlia/Getty Images; Illusration of Tuscan Column by morrismedia / iStockPhoto; Illustration of Doric Column by Roman Shcherbakov / iStockPhoto