RICHARDSON, George. Treatise on the five orders […]

London, George Nickel, 1787.


FIRST AND ONLY EDITION. Folio. pp. [x] 32 [2] plus 22 very detailed monochrome aquatint plates in excellent impression of columns, pedestals, archivolts, architraves, capitals, arches, and fine sculptural detail, drawn and engraved by Richardson & Son. Roman letter, little italic. T-p in English with parallel title in French, list of subscribers, predominantly made up of nobility, artists, and architects. Text double column English and French. Very good, untrimmed large copy, slight yellowing, some offsetting and occasional foxing. In contemporary paper boards, ink title to upper, spine worn away, ties intact.

A beautiful copy of this interestingly varied work on the 5 classical orders, whose features heavily influenced the architectural designs of the Neoclassical and Palladian styles in the 18 th century, with all plates executed by George Richardson (1737/8-c.1813), in partnership with his son William. The text begins with some background history of the Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan and Composite orders, places of origin and general use amongst the ancients, with individual explanations of each plate. The commentary often refers to Vitruvius regarding proportion and symmetry, mentioning these were based upon the ratios of the human body. He also makes reference to the more recent literature of Palladio (1508-1580), Scamozzi (1548-1616) and Barozzi (1507-1573). The plates are arranged thematically by architectural order, beginning with a general survey of the orders and their corresponding pedestals, imposts and archivolts, presented together in one plate for comparison. The cornices are decorated in a variety of styles including the acanthus leaf, typical of the Corinthian order and the unadorned cornice of the Tuscan. Following this is a more in-depth examination of the features of each order together with examples of larger structures in the appropriate style, such as arches, pedestals, intercolumniation, as well as detailed plans and elevations of their capitals. The illustrations are based upon Richardson’s observations from Rome, the wider Italian peninsula, Pola and the south of France, presumably made during his Grand Tour, which he undertook in the early 1760s. Richardson’s plates are particularly ornate, adding an unusual flourish of foliate detail to each order, such as the vine leaf pattern spiralling along the volutes of the Ionic capital in plates X and XIII.

Richardson wished to vary the forms included in his treatise so that the ‘ideas of the student should not be circumscribed on all occasions to the same rules’. It is evident that the text was intended as a didactic guide for young architects. The two final plates were added ‘at no extra cost’; they concern the ‘ordering of orders’. This involves the correct use of orders as an architect moves up the elevation of a building, Ionic placed above Doric and Corinthian above Ionic, as illustrated in the tiered arches of plate XXII, heavily reminiscent of the Roman Colosseum. The end of Richardson’s treatise concerns a type of support other than a column or pilaster, which does not fit any of the 5 architectural orders and is carved in the form of man or woman, also known as a ‘Persian’ type. A most famous example of this type can be seen supporting the entablature of the Erechtheion, a temple on the Athenian Acropolis.

ESTC T090832, Harris 744, not in Fowler.
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