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Saturday, 16 November 2019

Spotlight: Vitruvian Light

Have you ever wondered about the sensations you get when you stand in a tall church or the huge entrance of a museum? 
This month’s spotlight shines down from above, from the high, patterned windows and vaulted ceilings of sacred buildings. It is as if there is something greater than we can see. 
In some places of worship, and in grand museums and halls, we feel transcendence, as if in the presence of something greater. Many people with no beliefs in god or gods, feel a sense of awe when in these places. This month’s spotlight looks at the heritage of these sensations, in paint and stone, glass and light. 

Exeter Cathedral
Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’ was inspired by the principles of a Roman engineer and architect, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, commonly known as Vitruvius. Vitruvius practiced, and wrote of mathematical forms. 


He wrote about how to select materials to honour a building’s purpose, and he described three fundamental principles for design: firmitas (strength), utilitas (functionality), and venustas (beauty). Some of our experience of awe-inspiring buildings is probably thanks to these background approaches and principles, which presumably must work because “sacred geometry” has been practiced quite consistently for many centuries, though many faiths, with noticeable effects.


Curves of a shell, described geometrically with the Fibonacci sequence
Sacred buildings usually have curved ceilings, not just because the arch was the only way to achieve great height, but in order to spread light evenly inside the heights of the building. Just as the acoustics are intended to avoid echoes, and show the one-ness of the divine, similarly the curved ceilings are intended to spread evenly the light from above, that comes in through tall windows. In the religious sense, divine light has no dead-end corners or delimiting edges. It is even and omnipresent. These ideas have formed how art and architecture draw people together, in the acoustics and light of sacred buildings and music venues and theatres, to convey euphoria, and embrace unity and greatness.
JMW Turner, Ludlow Castle, watercolour, 1829-1830
The Ludlow Art Society has many practitioners of classical and traditional art techniques, such as watercolours and oils. These manifestations of curves and shading sometimes seem like a personal version of those grand enduring principles of how light and sound swirl in harmony.


'Shropshire Hills', oil on canvas, by 



If we are trying to create art which is concerned with sensations beyond the visual communication of two-dimensional drawings and paintings, we could look to the Vitruvian principles, and sacred geometry, as Leonardo da Vinci did. Indeed, many of us use these principles without being aware, simply because their effect is ingrained in our experience and culture.

Fibonacci sequence and golden ratio in nature
It is sobering to reflect that our own homes show none of these principles and geometries. We dwell, in modern times, under low ceilings with rectangular walls, flat surfaces, and sharp corners. The design of our own homes is the antithesis of the ideas of Vitruvius, the aesthetics of da Vinci, and vaulted places of wonder. It is as if houses and flats are designed to reduce such sensations. Or, as Corbusier described, in what is still the best selling book ever about architecture, "A house is a machine for living in".
Art is crucial, when our dwellings and technologies can seem to negate a sense of greater purpose or humanitarian unity.
Image: Covisioning zem design michael rice architect
consciousdesign com michael rice architect
When you take some rough, white cartridge paper, or a curling watercolour sheet with stone-like texture, and you place on it the curves of brush, you are manifesting more than an image.

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Jenny Trotman, Home Study Courses in Watercolour and Drawing








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Light, God’s eldest daughter, is a principal beauty in a building.” Thomas Fuller, 17th century historian and author of The Worthies of England.


Norwich Cathedral with 55 foot tall Helter Skelter, August 2019

God would be "revelling" in the joy a "glorious" helter-skelter has brought to Norwich Cathedral, its bishop has told his congregation from its slide. - BBC News



EPILOGUE : how this topic arose for Spotlight
   The phrase “20-20 Vision” is cropping up as a theme for next year’s arts festivals.
In art history, new concepts grow in times of uncertainty and turmoil. Remembrance Day has reminded us of such times. 2020 is waving challenges about the environment, government and cohesion.
   The theme of “2020 Vision” is making festival organisers think about what “Vision” means today.
   Inclusivity, particularly for arts funding bids, pushes festival organisers to interpret “Vision” around accessibility, and art for people who do not have vision, literally: people who cannot see. There are sound based art forms, and installations we can touch, so art without sight could be a theme. But that is somewhat extraneous, and it is more about removing parts of art, rather than building on wonders that have been achieved – including by visual artists who worked to reconcile wars as well as wonder. Remembrance Day is not only about soldiers, and the role of artistic culture in “battles of hearts and minds” seem a valid alternative to bloodshed. So another way of thinking about “2020 Vision” is how the arts shape and respond to local, national and global visions. For a single artist this can seem like a grandiose expectation, but festivals work beyond the level of individual artistic interests. They are about community.
   Some of the Vitruvian principles have formed how art and architecture have drawn people together, in the acoustics and light of sacred buildings and theatres, to convey a sense of wonder.
   Considering this from the perspective of what “Vision” can mean as we move through the aspirations of 2019 to 2020, sensations can be conveyed through form in ways which are more than visual.  It struck me that the blends of colours and light in watercolours, and the expanding curve drawn when you keep your hand on a page, are akin to the principles and curves of sacred geometry, and the blend of light in great buildings.  Bringing people together through awe is part of art's role, and vision, at personal and collective scales.
    - Matt Smart, Ludlow Art Society, November 2019

Vitruvis

1 comment:

  1. Shiny and though provoking as always Matt. How do you explain a vision that only you can see?... Is it best not to explain... And let the vision disappear, like tears in the rain. (2019 innit!) x

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