Friday, July 25, 2008

Gothic Proportion – Padovan

Richard Padovan ends chapter 10: Gothic Proportions with the assertion that architecture led the way for science. In contrast with contemporary architecture, Gothic architecture did not necessarily rely on ideas from other disciplines. Where architecture of today is passive, the cathedrals of the middle ages found innovation prior to any philosophical treatise.

Padovan goes on to criticise Panofsky for the latter’s insistence that a genuine cause and effect relation exist between Scholastic philosophy and Gothic architecture. The counter point Padovan presents places the design of churches between 1140 and 1231 whilst the treatises written between 1245-1274 do not overlap. “The architecture antedates the philosophy by nearly eight decades”.

Gothic architectural proportion shares a striking resemblance to Scholastic thought, however. The expositions of the Scholastic summa are divided into parts and related back to the whole. “The treatise is therefore composed in a way that conforms to Vitruvius’ definition of proportion in architecture: the whole is divided and subdivided into articulated parts bound together by consistent mutual relations of larger to smaller... At the same time as total unity was thus achieved by standardization of forms, the number of separate parts was multiplied”.

This proportionality of individual elements is indicative of the Gothic cosmology and how the medieval mind understood the cosmos. The hierarchy of parts from smaller to larger characterises how the medieval mind came to know things. Knowing and measuring were synonymous.

This relation of knowing and measuring was introduced into medieval cosmology through contact with Arabic speaking cultures. The passing of the works of Aristotle gradually occurred from 632 to 732 when western Christendom made contact with an Arabic culture that was in possession of the ancient Greek works. The Aristotelian notion of understanding material in a hierarchical manner was present in the Cosmology of Christendom and Arabia well before Thomas Aquinas published his Summa Theologica. The cause and effect debate between Scholasticism and Gothic construction takes a less prominent role when considering the prevalent cosmology in relation to what was constructed during the medieval period.

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