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The composite order is a mixed order, combining the volutes of the Ionic order capital with the acanthus leaves of the Corinthian order. The composite order volutes are larger, however, and the composite order also has echinus molding with egg-and-dart ornamentation between the volutes. The column of the composite order is ten diameters high.
Until the Renaissance, the composite was not ranked as a separate order. Instead it was considered as a late Roman form of the Corinthian order. The Arch of Titus, in the forum in Rome, built in 82 AD, is considered the first example of a Composite order.
The Composite order, due to its delicate appearance, was deemed by the Renaissance to be suitable for the building of churches dedicated to The Virgin Mary or other female saints.
Sebastiano Serlio (1475–1554), published his famous book I sette libri d'architettura in 1537 in which he was the second to mention the Composite order as its own order and not just as an evolution of the Corinthian order as previously suggested by Leon Battista Alberti. In fact Leon Battista Alberti in his De re aedificatoria (English: On the Art of Building) mentions the composite order calling it "Italic".
Francesco Borromini (1599–1667) developed the composite order in San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Rome, (1638). The interior of the church has 16 composite columns. The load-bearing columns placed underneath the arches have inverted volutes. This choice was highly criticised at the time thinking it was a lack of knowledge of the Vittruvian orders that lead him to his decision.
The inverted volutes can also be seen in Borromini's Oratorio dei Filippini in the lower order. Here the controversy was even higher considering that Borromini also removed the acanthus leaves leaving a bare capital.
- Zampa, P. L'ordine composito: alcune considerazioni, 1978, pp. 37–50
- Buonincasa, C. Architettura come dis-identità, 1978,
- Buonincasa, Carmine (1978). Architettura come dis-identità. Bari: Dedalo librerie.
- Zampa, Paola (1993). L'ordine composito: alcune considerazioni. Reggio calabria: Dipartimento Patrimonio Architettonico e Urbanistico.
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