Keystone (architecture)

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This article is about the architectural element. For other uses, see Keystone (disambiguation).
Voussoir stones of an arch
Keystone from the palazzo Borgazzi (Milan, Italy)
Rib vault keystone with boss, in church of Virgin Mary in Chełmno
Dropped keystone at Colditz Castle

A keystone is the wedge-shaped stone piece at the apex of a masonry vault or arch, which is the final piece placed during construction and locks all the stones into position, allowing the arch to bear weight.[1][2][3] Although a masonry arch or vault cannot be self-supporting until the keystone is placed, the keystone experiences the least stress of any of the voussoirs, due to its position at the apex.[4] Old keystones can decay due to vibration, a condition known as bald arch.

In a rib-vaulted ceiling, keystones may mark the intersections of two or more arched ribs. For aesthetic purposes, the keystone is sometimes larger than the other voussoirs, or embellished with a boss. Mannerist architects of the 16th century often designed arches with enlarged and slightly dropped keystones, as in the "church house" entrance portal at Colditz Castle (see image). Numerous examples are found in the work of Sebastiano Serlio, a 16th-century Italian Mannerist architect.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ching, Francis D.K. (1995). A Visual Dictionary of Architecture. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 12. ISBN 0-471-28451-3. 
  2. ^ "Glossary of Medieval Art and Architecture – Keystone". University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2007-06-25. 
  3. ^ "keystone". Merriam Webster. Retrieved 2007-06-25. 
  4. ^ "Windows and More About Arches". Retrieved 2007-06-25. 

External links[edit]

Media related to keystones at Wikimedia Commons