What is an Entablature?

Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. The entablature is the area above the columns.

In a columned building, the section between the top of the columns and the roof is called an entablature. The three parts, cornice, frieze and architrave, were designed to complement different types of columns. The cornice, which extends to the roof, and the architrave, which is flush with the frieze, are divided into several sections and feature solid designs. The frieze is usually the fanciest part of the entablature and sometimes features sculptures that tell stories. The Elgin Marbles in the British Museum are probably the best-known example of the frieze section.

The entablature sits atop a column, which is sometimes decorated with scrolls.

An entablature is the part of a building close to the roof, internally or externally, that sits on top of the columns. The classical entablature consists of three sections: the cornice, frieze, and architrave. The design of each section would vary slightly with the style of the column supporting the entablature. The width was also based on the height of the columns.

The highest part of the entablature is the cornice. It is an ornamental molding, often featuring two to three different geometric or floral designs. The cornice also extends further out than the other two parts because it has to meet and support the roof.

At the bottom of the entablature, the architrave is the girder that rests on top of the columns and extends until it is flush with the frieze. This section is also sometimes divided into several parts, like the cornice, but is usually the flattest part. The architrave is closer to the support beams seen in the ceilings.

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The middle section of the entablature is the frieze. Although occasionally omitted, more often than not the frieze was the decorative and elaborate part of the entablature. The more elaborate friezes did not repeat an image throughout the building, but sometimes displayed an entire story.

Perhaps the best-known example of entablature is from the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. In the early 1800s, several sculptures and a large part of the building’s inner frieze were removed and taken to the British Museum. Called the Elgin Marbles, nearly 250 feet (75 m) of the frieze are now preserved in London. Due to the damage to the Parthenon caused by war and pollution over the years, the Elgin Marbles may be the best record of the original construction.

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