What Is a Tuscan Column?

Greek and Roman Classical Architecture

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

Definition: 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.

" 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

Features of a Tuscan Column:

  • Shaft sets on a simple base
  • Shaft is usually plain, not fluted (grooved)
  • Shaft is slender, with proportions similar to a Greek Ionic column
  • Smooth, round capitals (tops)
  • No carvings or other ornaments

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 (view illustration) is traditionally more slender than a Doric column (view illustration). Also, the shaft of a Tuscan column is usually smooth, while a Doric column usually has flutes (grooves).

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. Examples:

  • Long Branch Estate North Portico. The plantation in Millwood, Virginia was built in the Federal style in 1813. When porticos and columns were added circa 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.
  • 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.
  • Colonnades: A colonnade, or a series of columns, is often made up of Tuscan columns. The simplicity of its individual design creates a majesty when many columns are evenly spaced in rows. The colonnade at Saint Peter's Square in Vatican City, shown on this page, is a famous example of Tuscan columns. The Colonnade walkways on the Lawn of Thomas Jefferson's University of Virginia also represent the Tuscan Order.

    Also Known As: Tuscany, Roman Doric, Carpenter Doric

    Common Misspellings: Tusscan, Tuskin, Tuskan

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    Source: American House Styles: A Concise Guide by John Milnes Baker, AIA, Norton, 1994, P. 177