A number of books and drawings from the Royal Academy of Art’s collection are displayed inside the Library's Print Room, presented as a series of competing and colliding “origin myths”. These range from a rare 16th-century edition of the treatise by Ancient Roman architect, Vitruvius, to works by contemporary architectural theorists such as Joseph Rykwert.
A new object is also on display – The Greengrocer’s Order – which is a playful interpretation of the myths concerning the origins of the classical orders. The Greengrocer’s Order is inspired by the acanthus leaves of the capital of the Corinthian order, but replaces this motif with plastic ‘fruit and veg’ piled up as contemporary votive offering that celebrates the everyday architecture of the high-street shop-front.
Hanging on the wall next to the column, the RA’s drawing of a Corinthian capital by William Chambers presents a counterpoint. Chambers, like many of his contemporaries, was fascinated by the evolutionary history of architecture, a new subject of study at the time. The classical orders were of particular interest and many far-fetched theories about their development were unearthed. In his seminal Treatise on Civil Architecture (1759), Chambers recounted the ancient story of the origin of the Corinthian order as it was given in the first century BC by Vitruvius:
“A young girl of Corinth being dead, her nurse placed upon her tomb a basket, containing certain trinkets in which she delighted when she was alive, and covered it with a tyle to prevent the rain from spoiling them. The basket happened to be placed on a root of Acanthus, which in the spring, pushing forth its leaves and sprigs, covered the sides of it; and some of them, that were longer than the rest, being obstructed by the corners of the tyle, were forced downwards, and curled in the manner of Volutes. Callimachus, the Sculptor, passing near the tomb, saw the basket, and in what manner the leaves had encompassed it. This new form pleasing him infinitely, he imitated it on columns, which he afterwards made at Corinth, establishing and regulating, by this model, the manner and proportions of the Corinthian Order”.
Opposite hangs a carefully studied, hand drawn render of the Greengrocers Order in the moment of its formation offering a further competing myth of architecture’s origins and a contemporary counterpoint, the story of the origin of the Greengrocer’s Order recounted as follows:
“A young girl of Essex, shopping in her local greengrocer’s for weekly provisions, the shopkeeper having weighed out her fruit and vegetables into individual brown paper bags and placed them in her basket for her, remembered she had forgotten her purse. Not wanting to have wasted the shopkeeper’s time she asked if he could keep her overflowing basket to one side while she returned home to fetch her purse, which he did. But it grew late and she did not return so the kindly shopkeeper decided to place her basket outside for her to collect later, protecting it from the rain with a newspaper. The rain soaked through the newspaper and the brown paper bags, temporarily swelling their size and thereby forcing the plentiful fruit and vegetables to protrude beyond the basket wire and spill over the top. Two local architects, passing near the greengrocer’s shop, saw the basket, and in what manner the fruit and vegetables had overspilled it. This new form pleasing them infinitely, they imitated it on a column, establishing and regulating, by this model, the manner and proportions of the Greengrocer’s Order”.
[From Origins: A Project by Ordinary Architecture]