Dentils – Architectural Details

What’s that “thingy” over there?

What’s a “dentil”?

“A continuous line of small blocks in a Classical molding just under the fascia.”—G.E. Kidder Smith, FAIA

A dentil (from Latin “dens”, a tooth) is a small block of wood, brick or similar material, used as a repeating ornament in the face of a building. Dentils are found in classical Greek and Roman architecture and other styles.

The Roman architect Vitruvius states that the dentil represents the end of a rafter as in the temples, porticoes and tombs of Rome, Egypt, Persia, and elsewhere  where it represents the reproduction in stone of timber construction. The earliest example is found carved into the rock of the tomb of King Darius reproducing the portico of his palace.

The dentil was the chief feature employed in the fascia moulding of the Romans and in the Italian Renaissance. As a general rule, the projection of the dentil is equal to its width, thus appearing square, and the intervals between are half this measure. In some cases, the projecting band has never had the sinkings cut into it to divide up the dentils, as in the Pantheon at Rome, and it is then called a dentil-band.

“Sure, Elvis had dentil molding in his dining room, but can we — should we — all be so bold? Dentil molding is a very powerful design. In some cases, it’s overpowering. For interiors, dentil molding can make a small room look like a torture chamber. And why don’t you see dentils on bungalows or “minimal traditional” houses from the 1940s and 1950s? Dentil molding was designed to ornament Greek temples, not modest American homes. Dentils may be traditional, but they are anything but minimal.”   – by Jackie Craven  Updated November 19, 2017

“The Greeks were first to declare that architecture was based on the proportions and form of the human body. “Capital,” for example, comes from the word “caput,” or head. In addition, dimensions were measured in terms of a human unit like the foot (piede in Italian). Dentil molding is the exact shape of a toothy dental smile, like on a jack-o’-lantern.” – The Annotated Arch, by Carol Strickland. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Pub.


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I love connecting with people and exploring cities, buildings, and communities... which led me to degrees in architecture and city planning. Now working with Sharlene, my wife of more than 50 years, I get to put it all together to help people navigate housing alternatives.

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