A baluster (according to "OED" derived through the French "balustre", from Italian "balaustro", from "balaustra", "pomegranate flower" [from a resemblance to the swelling form of the half-open flower ("illustration, below left")] , [The early sixteenth-century theoretical writer Diego da Sangredo ("Medidas del Romano", 1526) detected this derivation, N. Llewellyn noted, in "Two notes on Diego da Sangredo: 2. The baluster and the pomegranate flower", in "Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes" 40 (1977:240-300); Paul Davies and David Hemsoll's detailed history, "Renaissance Balusters and the Antique", in "Architectural History" 26 (1983:1-23, 117-122) p. 8 notes uses of the word in fifteenth-century documents and explores its connotations for sixteenth-century designers, pp 12ff.] from Latin "balaustium", from Gr. "balaustion") is a moulded shaft, square or circular, in stone or wood and sometimes in metal, [Cast-stone balusters were a development of the eighteenth century in Great Britain (see Coade stone), cast iron balusters a development largely of the 1840s.] standing on a unifying footing and supporting the coping of a parapet or the handrail of a staircase. Multiplied in this way, they form a balustrade. ["A row of balusters surmounted by a rail or coping" 1644. "OED"; cite web|url=|title=AskOxford|accessdate=2007-06-26] Individually, a baluster shaft may describe the turned form taken by a brass or silver candlestick, an upright furniture support, or the stem of a brass chandelier, etc.. The earliest examples are those shown in the bas-reliefs representing the Assyrian palaces, where they were employed as window balustrades and apparently had Ionic capitals. As an architectural element the balustrade did not seem to have been known to either the Greeks or the Romans (Wittkower 1974), but baluster forms are familiar in the legs of chairs and tables represented in Roman bas-reliefs, [Davies and Hemsoll 1983:2.] where the original legs or the models for cast bronze ones were shaped on the lathe, or in Antique marble candelabra, formed as a series of stacked bulbous and disc-shaped elements, both kinds of sources familiar to "Quattrocento" designers. The application to architecture was a feature of the early Renaissance: late fifteenth-century examples are found in the balconies of palaces at Venice and Verona. These quattrocento balustrades are likely to be following yet-unidentified Gothic precedents; they form balustrades of colonnettes [A "colonnette" is a miniature column, used decoratively.] as an alternative to miniature arcading. Rudolf Wittkower withheld judgement as to the inventor of the baluster [H. Siebenhüner, in tracing the baluster's career, found its origin in the profile of the round base of Donatello's "Judith and Holofernes", ca 1460 (Siebenhüner, "Docke", in Reallexikon zur Deutsche Kunstgeschichte" vol. 4 1988:102-107)] but credited Giuliano da Sangallo with using it consistently as early as the balustrade on the terrace and stairs at the Medici villa at Poggio a Caiano (ca 1480), [Davies and Hemsol 1983 note the earliest uses of both types of baluster in fictive classicising thrones and architecture in paintings; they instance an earlier use in real architecture on the main façade of the Palazzo Ducale, Urbino, where Luciano Laurana was employed (p. 6 and pl. 3j).] with employing balustrades even in his reconstructions of antique structures, and, importantly, with having passed the motif to Bramante (his Tempietto, 1502) and Michelangelo, through whom balustrades gained wide currency in the 16th century. Wittkower distinguished two types, one symmetrical in profile that inverted one bulbous vase-shape over another, separating them with a cushionlike torus or a concave ring, and the other a simple vase shape, whose employment by Michelangelo at the Campidoglio steps (ca 1546), noted by Wittkower, was preceded by very early vasiform balusters in a balustrade round the drum of Santa Maria delle Grazie (ca 1482), and railings in the cathedrals of Aquileia (ca 1495) and Parma, in the cortile of San Damaso, Vatican, and Antonio da Sangallos crowning balustrade on the Santa Casa at Loreto, finally installed in 1535., and liberally in his model for the Basilica of Saint Peter [These earlier appearances were adduced by Davies and Hemsol 1983:7f.] Because of its low center of gravity, this "vase-baluster" may be given the modern term "dropped baluster". [Davies and Hemsol 1983:1.]

Profiles and style changes

The baluster being a turned structure tends to follow design precedents that were set in woodworking and ceramic practices, where the turner's lathe and the potter's wheel are ancient tools. The profile a baluster takes is often diagnostic of a particular style of architecture or furniture and may offer a rough guide to date of a design, though not of a particular example. Some complicated Mannerist baluster forms can be read as a vase set upon another vase. The high shoulders and bold, rhythmic shapes of the Baroque vase and baluster forms are distinctly different from the sober baluster forms of Neoclassicism, which look to other precedents, like Greek amphoras. The distinctive twist-turned designs of balusters in oak and walnut English and Dutch seventeenth-century furniture, which took as their prototype the Solomonic column that was given prominence by Bernini, fell out of style after the 1710s.

Once it had been taken from the lathe, a turned wood baluster could be split and applied to an architectural surface, or to one in which architectonic themes were more freely treated, as on cabinets made in Italy, Spain and Northern Europe from the sixteenth through the seventeenth centuries. [The architectural invention of the applied half-baluster, with a caveat concerning "the fallacy of first recorded appearances", by Filippino Lippi in the painted architecture "all'antica" of his "St. Philip revealing the Demon" in the Strozzi Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, and in Michelangelo's planned use in the Medici Chapel, is explored by Paul Joannides, "Michelangelo, Filippino Lippi and the Half-Baluster", "The Burlington Magazine" 123 No. 936 (March 1981:152-154).]

Outside Europe, the baluster column appeared as a new motif in Mughal architecture, introduced in Shah Jahan's interventions in two of the three great fortress-palaces, the Red Fort of Agra and Delhi, ["There are no free-standing baluster columns of Shah Jahan's reign in the Fort at Lahore", according to Ebba Koch ("The Baluster Column: A European Motif in Mughal Architecture and Its Meaning" "Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes" 45 (1982:251-262) p. 252) but balustrades are a feature of all three.] in the early seventeenth century. Foliate baluster columns with naturalistic foliate capitals, unexampled in previous Indo-Islamic architecture according to Ebba Koch, rapidly became one of the most widely-used forms of supporting shaft in Northern and Central India in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. [Ebba Koch 1982:251-262.] The modern term baluster shaft is applied to the shaft dividing a window in Saxon architecture. In the south transept of the abbey at St Albans, England, are some of these shafts, supposed to have been taken from the old Saxon church. Norman bases and capitals have been added, together with plain cylindrical Norman shafts.

In modern American building code, attention is paid to the possibility a child can get his head between balusters and then believe he is caught. Balusters are normally separated by at least the same measurement as the size of the square bottom section. But placing balusters too far apart (to save money) does not look good. Balustrades terminate in columns, building walls or more properly in heavy newel posts. Otherwise, balustrades are not sturdy.

Balusters may be formed in several ways. Wood and stone can be shaped on the lathe, while concrete, plaster, iron, and plastics are usually formed by molding and casting. Turned patterns or old examples are used for the molds.

Materials used in modern day balusters

* Primed wood (usually hardwood)
* Cast iron
* Polyurethane/Polystyrene
* Various hardwoods and softwoods
* Wrought Iron
* Polymer Stone
* Cast Stone
* Plaster


The word banister (also bannister) refers to the balusters of a staircase. [cite web|url=|title=AskOxford|accessdate=2007-06-26] However the term banister implies a more modern, narrower support to a handrail than a traditional baluster.

The word banister is also often used to refer to the handrail of a staircase.


*"Encyclopaedia Britannica" 1911, "s.v." "Baluster"
*Rudolf Wittkower, 1974. ""The Renaissance baluster and Palladio" in "Palladio and English Palladianism" (London:Thames and Hudson)

External links

* [ Synthetic Stone Balusters]
* [ Baluster Spacing Calculator for Railings]
* [ Customize a Balustrade System]
* [ Wooden baluster systems]
* [ Polyurethane, Stone and Fiberglass Balustrade Systems]

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  • baluster — baluster, banister The OED describes banister as a corruption of the slightly earlier word baluster; both are 17c. A baluster, though once having the meaning that banisters (plural) now has, means a single curved or ornamental post supporting a… …   Modern English usage

  • Baluster — Bal us*ter, n. [F. balustre, It. balaustro, fr. L. balaustium the flower of the wild pomegranate, fr. Gr. balay stion; so named from the similarity of form.] (Arch.) A small column or pilaster, used as a support to the rail of an open parapet, to …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Baluster — (franz. balustre, v. griech. balaustion, »unreife Granatfrucht«), ein schwellend länglichrunder Körper, besonders in der Baukunst ein stark geschwelltes, glattes oder verziertes, meist reich profiliertes Säulchen oder überhaupt ein Zwergsäulchen …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

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