Proportion is a central principle of architectural theory and an important connection between mathematics and art. It is the visual effect of the relationships of the various objects and spaces that make up a structure to one another and to the whole. These relationships are often governed by multiples of a standard unit of length known as a "module".
Proportion in Roman Architecture
Architecture in Roman antiquity was rarely documented except in the writings of Vitruvius's treatise 'De Architectura'. Vitruvius served as an engineer under Julius Caesar during the first Gallic Wars (58 - 50 BC). The treatise was dedicated to the emperor Augustus. As Vitruvius defined in the first chapters of the treatise, he mentioned the three prerequisites of architecture are firmness (firmitas), commodity (utilitas), and delight (vernustas), which requires the architects to be equipped with a variety kind of learning and knowledge of many branches. Moreover, Vitruvius identified the 'Six Principles of Design' as order (ordinatio), arrangement (dispositio), proportion (eurythmia), symmertry (symmetria), propriety (decor) and economy (distributio). The word symmetria actually has a very different meaning as we interprets today. Among the six principles, proportion interrelates and supports all the other factors in geometrical forms and arithmetical ratios.
Symmetria as translated to symmetry in modern language, which does not mean symmetrical in forms in ancient language, but more closely related to the 'mathematical harmony' and measurable proportions. Vitruvius tried to describe his theory in the make up of human body, in which he referred as the perfect ratio. The principles of measurement units digitus, foot and cubit also came from the dimensions of a Vitruvian Man. More specifically, Vitruvius used the total height of 6 feet of a person, and each part of the body takes up different ratio. For example, the face is about 1/10th of the total height, and the head is about 1/8th of the total height. Based on these ratios, Vitruvius was able to support that the composition of classical orders were actually mimicking the human bodies. Which ensures the aesthetic harmonization when people viewing columns.
- James Stevens Curl (ed.), Oxford Dictionary of Architecture, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 2006), 606-607.
- Jones, Mark Wilson (2000). Principles of Roman Architecture. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. pp. 33–46. ISBN 978-0-300-08138-1.
- Jones, Mark Wilson (2000). Principles of Roman Architecture. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-300-08138-1.
- James Stevens Curl (ed.), Oxford Dictionary of Architecture, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 2006), 496.
- P. H. Scholfield (1958). The Theory of Proportion in Architecture. Cambridge University Press.
- Hanno-Walter Kruft (1994). History of Architectural Theory. Princeton Architectural Press. ISBN 9781568980102.
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