A keystone (also known as capstone) is the wedge-shaped stone at the apex of a masonry arch or typically round-shaped one at the apex of a vault. In both cases it is the final piece placed during construction and locks all the stones into position, allowing the arch or vault to bear weight. In arches and vaults (such as quasi-domes) keystones are often enlarged beyond the structural requirements and decorated. A variant in domes and crowning vaults is a lantern.
Keystones, as a hallmark of strength or good architecture, or their suggested form are sometimes placed in the centre of the flat top of doors, recesses and windows for decorative effect, so as to form an upward projection of a lintel.
Although a masonry arch or vault cannot be self-supporting until the keystone is placed, the keystone experiences the least stress of any of the voussoirs, due to its position at the apex. Old keystones can decay due to vibration, a condition known as bald arch.
In a rib-vaulted ceiling, keystones commonly mark the intersections of any two or more arched ribs.
For aesthetics, keystones are often larger than ribs in vaults and many of the voussoirs (arch stones) in arches, or embellished with a boss. Mannerist architects of the 16th century often designed arches with enlarged and slightly dropped keystones, as in the "church house" entrance portal at Colditz Castle (see image). Numerous examples are found in the work of Sebastiano Serlio, a 16th-century Italian Mannerist architect.
Keystone much enlarged for decorative effect, and carrying a coat of arms, Barcelona
- Ching, Francis D.K. (1995). A Visual Dictionary of Architecture. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 12. ISBN 0-471-28451-3.
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