Submitting a drawing for the Royal Academy is something I have done since my late teens. I don't enter every year but if I have a drawing I am happy with, I will take the time to fill out the forms. This year I have a safety net to fall back on because the Traditional Architecture Group is having a 'Salon des Refusés' for failed entries. This is born out of a, perhaps justified, feeling amongst traditional and classical architects that the RA is prejudiced against them. Despite this, I have had many pictures accepted over the years and in 2002 I won the Worshipful Company of Architects Prize for Architectural Drawing.

This year, a client commissioned me to draw an ionic capital. Doing a drawing of this scale is something I rarely have time to do and it was fortunate to be given the opportunity. For this, I decided to render the capital at the Temple of Ilissus. We have used this on our housing projects for Halsbury Homes, and I have started to notice its frequent use by architects from the 19th century onwards. Due to its simplicity, it became the 'go-to' order for Greek Revival buildings and is the most reproduced Greek style ionic. There are probably examples of it in every historic town in England. Here is a couple I saw in Colchester last weekend.

It's a very useable capital and works at a small scale for door cases, where it is often seen. The other two famous Greek ionics (from the Erechtheum and the Temple of Apollo Epicurius, Bassae) are less practical. The Erechtheum capital, with all its ornament, needs to be big and on a high-status building and the ionic from Bassae is just plain weird - it looks like a mushroom cut in half.

The Temple of Ilissus was a small temple built near the river Ilissus in Athens. It is thought to have been built around 435 to 430 BC to a design by Callicrates, who was the same architect who, with Ictinus, had constructed the Parthenon. The temple was later consecrated, around the 15th century but was abandoned in the late 16th century because it had been desecrated by a Catholic mass being performed there. It is slightly strange that it was abandoned after one catholic mass, presumably by Greek Orthodox Christians, when it had been a pagan temple for hundreds of years prior to it being a church, but I digress. Unfortunately, this abandoned church and a former temple was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in the 18th century, who used it as materials to build new fortifications. Our knowledge of it comes from Stuart and Revett's drawings, who measured it only a few years before it was destroyed. Their drawings were later published in the first volume of Antiques of Athens (1762). Had this not happened, this highly significant part of the classical cannon would be lost forever.

It was a particular favourite of the great neoclassical architect, Sir John Soane, who said: -

“The little Temple of the Ilissus at Athens […] is a beautiful example. Nothing can surpass the extreme simplicity and elegance of this composition. The beautifully proportioned columns, the angular capitals, and simple entablature are most happy effects of the refinement and elegant taste of the enlightened people to whom this work owes its origin.”

When, in 1834, the fragmentary remains of the Temple of Nike were discovered on the Acropolis, the Temple of Ilissus was used as a basis for the reconstruction because they are of a similar scale and design. Callicrates was also thought to be the architect of both temples. A hundred years later, proving the endless adaptability of classical architecture, Raymond Erith reproduced the Temple of Ilissus on the banks of the River Stour... to house a rowing boat.

Francis Terry

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