cornice

cornice

[kawr-nis]
cornice, molded or decorated projection that forms the crowning feature at the top of a building wall or other architectural element; specifically, the uppermost of the three principal members of the classic entablature, hence by extension any similar crowning and projecting element in the decorative arts. The term is also employed for any projection on a wall that is provided to throw rainwater off the face of the building. The cornice undoubtedly had its origin in the primitive eave projection: the Greek Doric and lonic cornices recall early wooden roof forms, and the Egyptian cavetto-and-fillet cornice is a derivation of the overhanging papyrus stalks that formed the eaves of primitive shelters. The cornice early lost its structural significance and became a stylized decorative element; in the Greek and Roman eras it assumed firmly standardized forms in the classical orders that were retained, with variations, through the Renaissance and later periods. As an element in the classical entablature the cornice is composed of the cymatium, or crown molding, above the corona, the projecting flat member, which casts the principal shadow; in this shadow, and supporting the corona, are a group of moldings called the bed molds, which may be elaborated with dentils. The Corinthian and Composite cornices are further embellished with modillions, or brackets, under the corona; the soffit of the Doric corona is decorated with square, flat projections called mutules, having guttae, or small knobs, hanging from their lower surfaces.
The term cornice comes from Italian cornice, meaning “ledge.”

Cornice molding is generally any horizontal decorative molding which crowns any building or furniture element: the cornice over a door or window, for instance, or the cornice around the edge of a pedestal. A simple cornice may be formed just with a crown molding.

The function of the projecting cornice is to throw rainwater free of the building’s walls. In residential building practice, this function is handled by projecting gable ends, roof eaves, and gutters. The elimination of the cornice has been important enough in modernist architecture, often simply for demands of style, that elaborate internal drainage systems are provided.

Classical architecture

The cornice molding is the set of projecting moldings that crown an entablature along the top edge of a temple or building. The cornice lies above the frieze, which rests on the architrave, all supported by columns.

The sloping cornice, “raking cornice” or “rake board,” is also carried across the top of the triangular pediment, at the gable end of a building. (Image:Arch timpano pantheon.jpg), found on the front of such buildings as the Parthenon, the Acropolis, or Schinkel’s Schauspielhaus. The sloping cornice hangs over the end of the structure supporting the roof. In classical and neoclassical architecture, the sloping cornice uses the same molding profile as the cornice below.

Each of the classic orders has certain characteristic profiles to its cornice:

The geison in classical Greek architecture

Geison (Greek: γεῖσον) is a specialist's architectural term, denoting the part of the entablature that projects outward from the top of the frieze in the Doric order and from the top of the frieze course (or sometimes architrave) of the Ionic and Corinthan orders: thus it is simply an equivalent of cornice. In classical Greek architecture the geison forms the outer edge of the roof on the sides of a structure with a sloped roof. The upper edge of the exterior often had a drip edge formed as a hawksbeak molding to shed water; there were also typically elaborate moldings or other decorative elements, sometimes painted. Above the geison ran the sima. The underside of the geison may be referred to as a soffit. The form of a geison (particularly the Hawksbeak molding of the outer edge) is often used as one element of the argument for the chronology of its building.

Horizontal geison

The horizontal geison runs around the full perimeter of a Greek temple, projecting from the top of the entablature to protect it from the elements and as a decorative feature. Horizontal geisa may be found in other ancient structures that are built according to one of the architectural orders. The horizontal sima (with its antefixes and water-spouts) ran above the horizontal geison along the sides of a building, acting as a rain gutter and final decoration.

Doric order

In the Doric order, the sloped underside of the horizontal geison is decorated with a series of protruding, rectangular mutules aligned with the triglyphs and metopes of the Doric frieze below. Each mutule typically had three rows of six guttae (decorative conical projections) protruding from its underside. The gaps between the mutules are termed viae (roads). The effect of this decoration was to thematically link the entire Doric entablature (architrave, frieze, and geisa) with a repeating pattern of vertically and horizontally aligned architectural elements. Use of the hawksbill molding at the top of the projecting segment is common, as is the undercutting of the lower edge to aid in dispersing rainwater. In order to separate the geison from the frieze visually, there is typically a bed molding aligned with the face of the triglyphs.

Ionic and Corinthian orders

Horizontal geisa of these orders relied on moldings rather than the mutules of the Doric order for their decoration.

Raking geison

A raking geison ran along the top edge of a pediment, on a temple or other structure such as the aedicula of a scaenae frons (theater stage building). This element was typically less decorative than the horizontal geison, and often of a differing profile from the horizontal geison of the same structure. The difference is particularly marked in the Doric order, where the raking geison lacks the distinctive mutules. The raking sima ran over the raking geison as a decorative finish and, essentially, a rain gutter.

References

  • Robertson, D. S. 1943. Handbook of Greek and Roman Architecture, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

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