decorated capitals


The Arch of Hadrian

Gerasa (Jerash), Jordan

129-130 AD

22 m

The Arch of Hadrian in Jerash, Jordan is an 11-metre high triple-arched gateway erected to honor the visit of Roman Emperor Hadrian to the city (then called Gerasa) in the winter of 129–130. The Arch originally stood to almost 22 m and probably had wooden doors. The arch features some unconventional, possibly Nabataean, architectural features, such as acanthus bases. The columns are decorated with capitals at the bottom rather than the top. The monument served both as a commemorative arch and as an approach to Gerasa. The Arch’s relative remoteness from the city walls points to a plan for southward expansion of Gerasa during its heyday. The expansion, however, has not been implemented.

Architecture (Part 8): Greco-Roman Temples

A Hellenistic Macedonian family ruled Egypt during the Ptolemaic Dynasty (305-30 BC).  Under their rule, a revival of Egyptian traditions & forms occurred, but with a change – instead of the temples’ previous “public majesty”, they were now darkened and mysterious.  Large building projects were carried out, temples were rebuilt or enlarged, and Egyptian religious beliefs were preserved by the foreigners.

The basic elements of temple construction & room arrangement were still used, with the pronaos and a free-standing central sanctuary (instead of against the back wall) added to them.  Under the later kings of this dynasty, the temples still provided a strong social function, serving as the town’s focus, and giving it administrative & economic value as well as spiritual value.

The Temple of Edfu was built from sandstone on the Nile’s west bank in Edfu, over a period of 180 years.  Its layout was complex, but streamlined.

Temple of Edfu.

Statues of Horus outside the entrance (close-up).

Stairways inside the pylons led to the roof.  The entrance led to a large courtyard, after which was the pronaos, hypostyle hall, small antechamber, and finally a free-standing sanctuary, surrounded by a corridor.

Decorative hieroglyphic texts state that the temple was built according to the ancient ideal, which re-emphasized its dedication to the cult.

Edfu was dedicated to Horus (the falcon god), and displays all the typical major temple elements: broken-lintel doorway (two partial lintels reach only a short way, with a large gap in the middle); elaborate column capitals; a screen wall across the hypostyle hall; and the roof was used for ritual.

A winged sun-disc over the pylon entrance represented Behdet, the creator & protector of the world.  The courtyard is flanked by colonnaded porticoes.  It gave an impressive public aspect to the temple, with elaborate, brightly-decorated capitals, and the large statue of Horus as a falcon at the back.

Courtyard (looking back to the pylons).

The pronaos was also called the Hall before the Great Seat”. This is the temple’s fore-hall (i.e. before the hypostyle hall).  It has three rows of six columns each.  The only light came in through a square aperture in the roof, thus emphasizing the transition between the physical & spiritual worlds.

Behind the first row of columns is a screen wall, to restrict the amount of light entering the pronaos.  This created an environment for cleansing before approaching the sanctuary.  The screen wall is made of thin stone, and is highly-decorated with images of the king & queen, cult themes, and mythological motifs, thus emphasizing the cult of the pharaoh.

In the courtyard, looking to the first row of columns.

Hypostyle hall.

The Temple of Hathor in the Dendera Temple Complex was built during the 00’s BC.  The columns supporting its hypostyle hall were crowned with 4-sided Hathor-head capitals.  The upper part of the capitals depicted the mammisi (birth house), which was identified with divine descent.  Hathor was the goddess of love.

Temple of Hathor.

Columns in the hypostyle hall.

The cornice was a projecting ornamental moulding, on along the top of pylons and temple walls.  It was a standard part of Egyptian decoration.  The earliest designs were simple mud-brick and reed, and later elaborate designs were of detailed cult symbolism, such as the striking cobra and sun-disc.  Cornices gave elegance to monumental structures.


Hypogeum of the Palmieri

Lecce, Italy

3rd century BCE

Hypogeum of the Palmieri is a prestigious example of Messapian funerary architecture. The Hypogeum is composed of three rooms arranged around a vestibule. There are six capitals that decorate the door jambs. The ceiling is made with slabs of large lytic.

Along the access corridor to the tomb are two sculptural friezes. The friezes are composed of two long figurative plates, margined on the upper side by a frame and a file ova; The good state of preservation allows fairly accurate reading of what was depicted- a battle between walking and riding warriors. The floral frieze, recessed into the opposite wall, is constructed from three layers: the center, emerging from an acanthus tuft, a female face with headgear, associated with two stems that wind at its sides occupying the full length of the frieze.


Square Caps

I noticed that I’d neglected to post some of my day-to-day type research that’s been piling up over on Instagram and Pinterest.

Here’s a selection of decorative capitals filling rectangles. While I’ve not necessarily chosen the most beautiful of initials they do represent a range of styles. The sqaure shape provides a good structure for patterns and imagery while making it easy to compose blocks of text around them.

  • Midolle, Silvestre and Others, Florid and Unusual Alphabets
  • William Morris, Kelmscott Chaucer
  • Owen Jones, 1001 Illuminated Capital Letters
  • Taschen, A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles

Greco-Buddhism is the term given to refer to the cultural syncretism of Hellenistic and Buddhist culture in ancient Bactria and the India (present day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Northern India) between the 4th century BCE and 5th century CE. The style gave rise after the invasion of Bactria (present-day Afghanistan) and the Indus Valley by the Greek armies of Alexander the Great, and flourished under the subsequent Indo-Greek Kingdom and the Kushan Dynasty, who incorporated the Greek Alphabet and other aspects of Hellenistic culture into their own society. The result was an interesting combination of Greek artistic elements in the local Buddhist art. It is generally believed that the first anthropomorphic images of the Buddha emerged during the Greco-Buddhist period in the 1st century CE. Scholars credit many stylistic elements of the image of the Buddha, such as his halo, stylistic curls, and top bun style to Greco-Roman artistic influence. Interestingly, many standing images of the Buddha at this time also depict him in a Greek contrapposto. Many deities from the Hellenistic pantheon were also adopted into Buddhist religion. The most notable examples are the deities, Heracles, Tyche, and Boreas, who eventually became associated with the Buddhist deities, Vajrapani, Hariti, and Oado respectively. Aspects of Greco-Buddhism managed to filter into Buddhist art within the Indian subcontinent and Eastern Asia as the religion started to spread eastward. Greco-Buddhism is one of the greatest examples of long distance cultural and artistic exchange in the ancient world, spanning between two continents and adapting elements from countless different cultures, most notably, Greco-Roman, Persian, and Hindu.

Greco-Buddhism particularly flourished in the ancient region of Gandhara which encompassed the land around the border of Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. Excavations in the archaeological site of Hadda, located near the Kyber Pass in Afghanistan, recovered over 23,000 examples of Greco-Buddhist art. Many of these sites, unfortunately, were destroyed or heavily damaged through looting and vandalization by the Taliban in the 1990s. The artifacts that have survived are a testament of a very rich and diverse cultural syncretism.

1) Statue of the “Hadda Triad.” A Giant statue of the Buddha sits between the two deities, Vajrapani/Heracles and Hariti/Tyche who are sculpted in the Hellenistic style. From the Tapa-i-Shotor Buddhist complex in Hadda, Afghanistan. c. 2nd-5th century CE.  This statue was destroyed in the 1990s by the Taliban. Only photographs and illustrations survive.

2) Sculpture relief of the Buddhist gods Hariti/Tyche and her consort Pancika. The two figures are donned in Greek style dress and Hariti/Tyche is holding a Hellenistic-style cornucopia. From Gandhara, Pakistan, c. 3rd century CE. British Museum.

3) Bronze statuette of a seated Buddha. From Gandhara, Pakistan, c.1st-2nd  century CE. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

4) A reliquary known as the “Bimaran Casket.”  The Buddha, pictured in the center, is depicted in a contrapposto pose. He is surrounded by two deities, Brahma and Śakra, inside Greco-Roman style arched niches. From Hadda, Afghanistan, c. 1st century CE. British Museum.

5) Indo-Conrinthian capital decorated with a seated Buddha. From Gandhara, Pakistan. 3rd century CE. Musée Guimet

Princess Serenity's Dress: An Analysis and Break-Down

Hey, Sailor Moon fandom, hey…

It’s that time again where I talk too much. This time let’s discuss Princess Serenity’s famous dress which is well-known as an interpretation of the “Palladium” / “Il Palladio” dress in the Christian Dior, Haute Couture Spring/Summer 1992 collection. Here’s a very nice post by Moonie Trivia with detailed pics comparing them with the included inspiration, an Ionic column.

So what more is there to add, really?

Well, let’s take a little trip down history and fashion lane.

Keep reading


Dev Blog: Research and Reference in Rise of the Tomb Raider 

Note from Brian Horton, Game Director: “In light of the news about the bombings in Turkey today, my thoughts go out to the people affected by this tragedy.”

[Leading into the launch of Rise of the Tomb Raider, we’ll feature a variety of developer blogs that lift the curtain on the creation of Lara’s first great tomb raiding expedition.]

Creating believable worlds for Tomb Raider requires extensive reference gathering, and we take photos on location. For Rise of the Tomb Raider, our story begins in Syria in a hidden refuge carved into the mountainside. 

Cappadocia is in central Turkey and has a similar climate to Syria with underground cities carved from rock. This was perfect reference for the Prophet’s Tomb, the scale and artistry was amazing and the quality of light was luminous. The photos above and below are a small sample of the hundreds taken.

Lara travels back to London, and we wanted to capture some of the local architecture to represent the location around Lara’s flat. King’s Cross was a cool location to shoot in, with a mix of businesses, the train station, and industrial brick living spaces.  

The bulk of the adventure takes place in Siberia, and we chose to use online research for most of the mountains and abandoned Soviet Gulags, but the lush valley in the center of the hostile tundra was inspired by Yosemite. This location is very convenient for us to travel to and had amazing examples for mountains, trees, grasses, and rivers.

Byzantine architecture is a late Roman style, which is inspired by Greek architecture. One of our locations is inspired by a Greek Library from Ephesus in Turkey. The ruins here are very well preserved in places and are badly damaged in others. The library façade below was a perfect example of the architecture, carved detail and distress we were looking for.

The Mythical City of Kitezh is a Russian myth, but the Orthodox religious architecture in Russia has rich Byzantine influences. Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul would be the main inspiration behind the mythical city. 

Hagia Sophia was the crown jewel of the Byzantine construction. The signature stacked dome design was an engineering marvel for its time, and the impression you feel going inside is simply breathtaking. The scale is massive and took my breath away to walk through the central chamber. The golden domes seem to float above, the walls are panels of various different marbles. Dozens of intricate Brass chandeliers hang low from the ceiling, detailed carvings decorate the capitals of each marble pillar and the meticulous detail of the mosaics glisten in the glancing light.

Byzantine Art and architecture has been a passion of mine for many years and it was an honor to capture thousands of pictures of these amazing locations. Our artists are committed to bringing as much detail and authenticity to our worlds as possible, these reference trips are just one small example of how we do that.

Brian Horton
Game Director, Rise of the Tomb Raider