Looking at Buildings

Styles & Traditions


The changing character of CAPITALS provides a useful guide to the stylistic developments of the C12 to C13. A capitalGlossary Term tapers downwards in orderGlossary Term from the square sectionGlossary Term of the wall which it carries, to the generally circular columnGlossary Term which it crowns. The most widespread types in C12 England were forms derived from the block capitalGlossary Term of ByzantineGlossary Term orign; the cushion capitalGlossary Term and its cousin, the scallop capitalGlossary Term.

In the later 12th century the lower part of the capitalGlossary Term was often given a concave profile; providing the form known as the 'trumpet scallop'. A contemporary form, used from c.1170-90, also with concave lower part, is the 'waterleafGlossary Term' capitalGlossary Term, with an upper part with inward curling leaves. Increased amount of undercutting with fine tools produced the moulded or bell capitalGlossary Term of the 13th century, where the top as well as the bottom is circular.

GothicGlossary Term capitals were influenced by the classicalGlossary Term CorinthianGlossary Term capitalGlossary Term, whose concave shape is marked by bands of curved leaves. The crocket capitalGlossary Term is the French GothicGlossary Term version, the stiffleaf capitalGlossary Term is an English development.

Travelling masons spread ideas across the country; stiffleaf capitals can be found throughout England and Wales.


Bell capital

A form of capital shaped like an upturned bell, common in early medieval architecture.

Block capital

A capital shaped like a cube with rounded convex lower parts, common in Norman architecture.


A style which originated at Byzantium (Constantinople), the Eastern capital of the Roman Empire, in the 5th century, spreading around the Mediterranean and, with Eastern (Orthodox) Christianity, from Sicily to Russia in later centuries. It developed the round arches, vaults and domes of Roman architecture but eschewed formalized classical detail in favour of lavish decoration and ornament of emblematic and symbolic significance. Introduced to late 19th- and early 20th-century Britain as an alternative to Gothic, usually for church architecture; often called Neo-Byzantine.


Head or crowning feature of a column or pilaster.


A term used for the architecture of Ancient Greece and Rome, revived at the Renaissance and subsequently imitated around the Western world. It uses a range of conventional forms, the roots of which are the orders, or types of column each with its fixed proportions and ornaments (especially Doric, Ionic and Corinthian). Classical buildings tend also to be symmetrical, both externally and on plan. Classical architecture in England began c. 1530 with applied ornamental motifs, followed within a few decades by fully-fledged new buildings.


An upright structural member, especially in the classical styles, of round section and with a shaft, a capital, and usually a base.


The most slender and ornate of the three main classical orders. It has a basket-shaped capital ornamented with acanthus foliage.


The style of the Middle Ages from the later 12th century to the Renaissance, with which it co-existed in certain forms into the 17th century. Characterized in its full development by the pointed arch, the rib-vault and an often skeletal masonry structure for churches, combined with large glazed windows. The term was originally associated with the concept of the barbarian Goths as assailants of classical civilization.


One of a series of recessed arches and jambs forming a splayed medieval opening, e.g. a doorway or arcade arch. Also, an upright structural member used in series, especially in classical architecture: see Orders.


Two-dimensional representation of a building, moulding etc., revealed by cutting across it.


A broad tapering leaf shape that turns over at the top, used especially on late 12th-century capitals (hence waterleaf capital) and some classical mouldings.