Is the golden ratio always used in art

Is The Golden Ratio Always Used In Art?

The following question often arises among art lovers: “Is the golden ratio always used in art?”

The golden ratio is a controversial topic in the art world. Some say it has been used by artists and architects in their creations for thousands of years. According to them, the golden ratio has existed since ancient times as a means of aesthetic representation.

Proponents of the golden ratio say this proportion is found in the human body, as well as in the flora and fauna.

Many others, on the other hand, think that the golden ratio has nothing to do with aesthetics.

Let me shed some light on the subject.

Is the golden ratio always used in art?

The answer is clearly no, the golden ratio is not always used in art. There is no clear evidence that the golden ratio was intentionally used by ancient, medieval, and Renaissance painters and architects. 

In the 20th century, however, there are examples of the deliberate use of the golden ratio in the works of well-known artists.

The golden ratio is one of the best-known proportions that can be applied in art, but it is not the only one. Of course, there are other proportions and compositional systems that make a work of art or a building aesthetic.

If you want to know more about the subject of the golden ratio, I recommend Mario Livio’s excellent book “The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, The World’s Most Astonishing Number”.

What is the golden ratio and why is it important?

Euclid defined the golden ratio as, “A straight line is said to have been cut in extreme and mean ratio when, as the whole line is to the greater segment, so is the greater to the less.”

Only one such point can be defined for each line, and that is the golden ratio.

Expressed in numbers, the golden ratio is 0.619:1 = 1+0.618. the mathematical symbol of which is the lowercase Greek letter φ (Phi).

The golden ratio can be applied for straight lines, flat geometric shapes (rectangle, triangle, pentagon, pentagram), and spatial solids (Icosahedron, Dodecahedron).

The golden ratio is important because it has become one of the well-known art composition systems over time. It was considered aesthetical by artists such as Salvador Dali or Le Corbusier. That is why I consider it important to gain some knowledge about the golden ratio.

RELATED: How Do The Elements And Principles Of Art Work Together?

How is the Fibonacci sequence related to the golden ratio?

Within maths, the golden ratio is most closely related to the Fibonacci number sequence.

Leonardo da Pizza, also known as Fibonacci, described this series of numbers in his book Liber Abaci when analyzing the reproduction of rabbits.

It is interesting to note that it was Fibonacci who introduced Arabic numerals in Europe.

The Fibonacci sequence is an ascending series of numbers in which each number is the sum of the previous two numbers:

1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, …

Dividing any number in the series by the number following it, the result is approximately 0.618. If we divide the number by the one before it, we get 1,618.

We can observe that these are the proportions of a straight line cut in two according to the golden ratio.

The golden ratio can also be expressed in the following ratios: 3: 5, 5: 8, and 8:13, which correspond to consecutive numbers in the Fibonacci sequence.

Kepler recognized the relationship between the Fibonacci number sequence and the golden ratio when he realized that as the numbers increased, their ratios became closer to the value of Φ.

The Fibonacci series is often found in natural spiral patterns such as the arrangement of sunflower seeds, daisy and rose petals, pineapple, and fir cone scales.

How do you draw the golden ratio?

There are many ways to construct a golden ratio. Let’s look at two methods now:

How do you draw a golden ratio line?

golden ratio construction
The golden ratio construction method

Step 1: Draw a line segment AB of any length. From point B, draw a perpendicular line with a length equal to half the length of segment AB. Mark the endpoint of the new segment with C.

BC = AB/2

Step 2: From point C obtained in this way, draw a circle with a radius r = BC. Connect points A and C with a line. Let D be the point where the circle intersects this segment.

Step 3: Draw a circle with center A and radius AD. Let E be the point at which this arc intersects the segment AB. Point E divides our AB segment according to the golden ratio.

How to construct the golden rectangle?

Golden rectangle construction method
The golden rectangle construction method

Step 1: Draw an ABCD square of any size. Halve the AB side and mark the new point with

Step 2: Draw an arc with the center point E and the radius equal to the length of the EC segment as shown below. Extend segment AB to intersect the arc.

Step 3: Extend the DC side of the square and draw a perpendicular from point F to complete the rectangle. The AFGD rectangle thus constructed corresponds to the proportions of the golden ratio.

You can also construct other geometric shapes according to the golden ratio, such as the golden spiral, the golden triangle, the pentagon, and the pentagram.

Did the Egyptians know about the golden ratio?

Built around 2550 BC, the Great Pyramid of Giza is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world that still exists today. It was the tallest building in the world for 3,000 years before the Eiffel Tower was built.

According to Wikipedia, the pyramid of Khufu was originally 280 royal cubits (146.7 meters, 481.4 feet) high and its sides were 440 cubits (230.6 meters, 756.4 feet) long.

According to some opinions, the golden ratio was used in the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza. However, there is no concrete evidence for this. It is much more likely that the golden ratio was not used in ancient Egyptian architecture because it was not known yet.

To determine angles and slopes, the Egyptians used seked, as evidenced by two mathematical papyri (the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus in the British Museum and the Moscow Mathematical Papyrus in the Museum of Fine Arts). Seked was also probably used in the construction of the Khufu pyramid, which determined the angle of inclination of the sides.

Is the Parthenon in golden ratio?

The construction of the Parthenon began in 447 BC when Athens lived its golden age under Pericles. Under the direction of architects Ictinus and Callicrates and the sculptor Phidias, the work was completed in 432 BC.

The Greeks may have known the golden ratio when the Parthenon was built, but presumably, it was not used in its construction.

The elements of the eastern façade of the Parthenon that many say approach the proportions of the golden section were probably not deliberately made in this way.

There is, however, another proportion that is repeated several times in the construction of the Parthenon.

Parthenon Athens
The Parthenon of Athens

According to Worldhistory.org, the floor plan of the Parthenon is 30.88 meters (101.34 feet) long and 69.5 meters (228.14 feet) wide, which means a 4: 9 aspect ratio. This ratio also occurs in other parts of the building, such as the height and width of the building and the width and length of the inner cell.

Did Leonardo da Vinci use the golden ratio?

Leonardo da Vinci was a good friend of Luka Pacioli. He probably encountered the golden ratio when he made the illustrations for Pacioli`s De Divina Proportione.

Although many discover the golden ratio in Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings, such as the face of the Mona Lisa, there is no clear evidence that Leonardo consciously applied the golden ratio in his drawings and paintings.

What are some examples of the golden ratio in art?

It is also true of the other representatives of Renaissance art that we cannot prove with certainty that the golden ratio was intentionally used in their works of art.

In the case of the paintings listed below, the proportions close to the golden ratio can be discovered:

Birth of Venus by Sandro Boticelli. The size of the canvas is approximately the size of the golden section, as well as the placement of certain key elements of the composition.

The Birth of Venus by Boticelli
The birth of Venus by Sandro Boticelli. Public domain. Image source

The woodcuts for the illustration of the Apocalypse by Albrecht Dürer are also said to contain the golden ratio.

The Four Horsemen from The Apocalypse by Albrecht Dürer
The Four Horsemen by Albrecht Dürer. Public domain. Image source

Albrecht Dürer was also of the opinion that mathematics was related to art. During his travels in Italy, he encountered works by Euclid and Pacioli which had a great influence on him. However, there is no evidence that he intentionally used the golden ratio in his compositions.

Salvador Dali consciously used the golden ratio as part of the composition in his famous painting The Sacrament of the Last Supper. The painting belongs to the collection of the National Gallery of Art. The dimensions of the canvas are proportional to the golden rectangle. There is also a dodecahedron in the upper part of the picture, which consists of pentagons constructed according to the golden ratio.

The famous Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965) also consciously used the golden ratio when creating his anthropometric ratio system, the Modulor, which he used in the design of many buildings.

Swiss Commemorative Coin Le Corbusier
Swiss commemorative coin with Le Corbusier`s Modulor Public domain. Image source

Who found the golden ratio first? – The origins of the golden ratio

The antiquity

Euclid was a Greek mathematician from Alexandria. He wrote the Elements around 300 BC. This book, which included all the knowledge of mathematics to date, has since been published in more than 1,000 editions and is still valid and in use today.

Euclid’s book contains several figures constructed by using a line divided into “an extreme and mean ratio,” which today is called the golden ratio.

According to Euclid, a straight line is cut into two parts “in extreme and mean ratio” (the golden ratio) when, as the whole line is to the larger segment so is the larger segment to the smaller.

Later, during the Renaissance, the golden ratio came back into focus.

The Renaissance

Piero della Francesca studied painting and was skilled in mathematics, writing books on, among other things, perspective and geometric solids. He also used the golden ratio to solve mathematical problems.

Luka Pacioli was an Italian mathematician and a Franciscan monk. In 1509 he wrote a book entitled The Divine Proportion (De Divina Proportione) illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci.

Icosahedron by Leonado da Vinci
Icosahedron by Leonardo da Vinci. Public domain. Image source

In his book, Luka Pacioli used information he gained from Piero della Francesca’s books.

At the beginning of De Divina Proportione, Pacioli expresses his intention to reveal the secret of harmonious forms through the golden ratio. Through this book written for artists, the golden ratio found its way from math to the arts.

Well-known German mathematician Johannes Kepler commented on the golden ratio as follows:

“Geometry has two great treasures; one is the Theorem of Pythagoras; the other, the division of a line into extreme and mean ratio. The first we may compare to a measure of gold; the second we may name a precious jewel. ”

The 19th century

The terms golden ratio and golden section began to be used in the 19th century. The term Golden section (Goldener Schnitt) was first used by the German mathematician Martin Ohm.

Final thoughts

The golden ratio has been known since antiquity and is considered by many to be the ultimate means of aesthetic representation. Other opinions suggest that there is no evidence that the golden ratio is related to aesthetics.

There are enthusiastic supporters and opponents of the application of the golden ratio in the fine arts. Based on the information described above, I encourage you to form your own opinion on the controversial subject of the golden ratio.

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