Golden ratio  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
golden mean (philosophy)

In mathematics and the arts, two quantities are in the golden ratio if the ratio between the sum of those quantities and the larger one is the same as the ratio between the larger one and the smaller. The golden ratio is approximately 1.6180339887

At least since the Renaissance, many artists and architects have proportioned their works to approximate the golden ratio—especially in the form of the golden rectangle, in which the ratio of the longer side to the shorter is the golden ratio—believing this proportion to be aesthetically pleasing. Mathematicians have studied the golden ratio because of its unique and interesting properties..

Objects proportioned according to the golden ratio seem more attractive. Ancient Greek architecture is based on this view of symmetry and proportion. Modern research also suggests that people whose facial features are symmetric and proportioned according the golden ratio are more attractive than those whose faces are not.



Beginning in the Renaissance, a body of literature on the aesthetics of the golden ratio has developed. As a result, architects, artists, book designers, and others have been encouraged to use the golden ratio in the dimensional relationships of their works.

The first and most influential of these was De Divina Proportione by Luca Pacioli, a three-volume work published in 1509. Pacioli, a Franciscan friar, was known mostly as a mathematician, but he was also trained and keenly interested in art. De Divina Proportione explored the mathematics of the golden ratio. Though it is often said that Pacioli advocated the golden ratio's application to yield pleasing, harmonious proportions, Livio points out that that interpretation has been traced to an error in 1799, and that Pacioli actually advocated the Vitruvian system of rational proportions. Pacioli also saw Catholic religious significance in the ratio, which led to his work's title. Containing illustrations of regular solids by Leonardo Da Vinci, Pacioli's longtime friend and collaborator, De Divina Proportione was a major influence on generations of artists and architects alike.


Some studies of the Acropolis, including the Parthenon, conclude that many of its proportions approximate the golden ratio. The Parthenon's facade as well as elements of its facade and elsewhere are said to be circumscribed by golden rectangles. To the extent that classical buildings or their elements are proportioned according to the golden ratio, this might indicate that their architects were aware of the golden ratio and consciously employed it in their designs. Alternatively, it is possible that the architects used their own sense of good proportion, and that this led to some proportions that closely approximate the golden ratio. On the other hand, such retrospective analyses can always be questioned on the ground that the investigator chooses the points from which measurements are made or where to superimpose golden rectangles, and that these choices affect the proportions observed.

Some scholars deny that the Greeks had any aesthetic association with golden ratio. For example, Midhat J. Gazalé says, "It was not until Euclid, however, that the golden ratio's mathematical properties were studied. In the Elements (308 BC) the Greek mathematician merely regarded that number as an interesting irrational number, in connection with the middle and extreme ratios. Its occurrence in regular pentagons and decagons was duly observed, as well as in the dodecahedron (a regular polyhedron whose twelve faces are regular pentagons). It is indeed exemplary that the great Euclid, contrary to generations of mystics who followed, would soberly treat that number for what it is, without attaching to it other than its factual properties." And Keith Devlin says, "Certainly, the oft repeated assertion that the Parthenon in Athens is based on the golden ratio is not supported by actual measurements. In fact, the entire story about the Greeks and golden ratio seems to be without foundation. The one thing we know for sure is that Euclid, in his famous textbook Elements, written around 300 BC, showed how to calculate its value." Near-contemporary sources like Vitruvius exclusively discuss proportions that can be expressed in whole numbers, i.e. commensurate as opposed to irrational proportions.

A geometrical analysis of the Great Mosque of Kairouan reveals a consistent application of the golden ratio throughout the design, according to Boussora and Mazouz. It is found in the overall proportion of the plan and in the dimensioning of the prayer space, the court, and the minaret. Boussora and Mazouz also examined earlier archaeological theories about the mosque, and demonstrate the geometric constructions based on the golden ratio by applying these constructions to the plan of the mosque to test their hypothesis.

The Swiss architect Le Corbusier, famous for his contributions to the modern international style, centered his design philosophy on systems of harmony and proportion. Le Corbusier's faith in the mathematical order of the universe was closely bound to the golden ratio and the Fibonacci series, which he described as "rhythms apparent to the eye and clear in their relations with one another. And these rhythms are at the very root of human activities. They resound in man by an organic inevitability, the same fine inevitability which causes the tracing out of the Golden Section by children, old men, savages and the learned."

Le Corbusier explicitly used the golden ratio in his Modulor system for the scale of architectural proportion. He saw this system as a continuation of the long tradition of Vitruvius, Leonardo da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man", the work of Leon Battista Alberti, and others who used the proportions of the human body to improve the appearance and function of architecture. In addition to the golden ratio, Le Corbusier based the system on human measurements, Fibonacci numbers, and the double unit. He took Leonardo's suggestion of the golden ratio in human proportions to an extreme: he sectioned his model human body's height at the navel with the two sections in golden ratio, then subdivided those sections in golden ratio at the knees and throat; he used these golden ratio proportions in the Modulor system. Le Corbusier's 1927 Villa Stein in Garches exemplified the Modulor system's application. The villa's rectangular ground plan, elevation, and inner structure closely approximate golden rectangles.

Another Swiss architect, Mario Botta, bases many of his designs on geometric figures. Several private houses he designed in Switzerland are composed of squares and circles, cubes and cylinders. In a house he designed in Origlio, the golden ratio is the proportion between the central section and the side sections of the house.

In a recent book, author Jason Elliot speculated that the golden ratio was used by the designers of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square and the adjacent Lotfollah mosque.


Leonardo da Vinci's illustrations in De Divina Proportione (On the Divine Proportion) and his views that some bodily proportions exhibit the golden ratio have led some scholars to speculate that he incorporated the golden ratio in his own paintings. Some suggest that his Mona Lisa, for example, employs the golden ratio in its geometric equivalents. Whether Leonardo proportioned his paintings according to the golden ratio has been the subject of intense debate. The secretive Leonardo seldom disclosed the bases of his art, and retrospective analysis of the proportions in his paintings can never be conclusiveTemplate:Citation needed.

Salvador Dalí explicitly used the golden ratio in his masterpiece, The Sacrament of the Last Supper. The dimensions of the canvas are a golden rectangle. A huge dodecahedron, with edges in golden ratio to one another, is suspended above and behind Jesus and dominates the composition.

Mondrian used the golden section extensively in his geometrical paintings.

A statistical study on 565 works of art of different great painters, performed in 1999, found that these artists had not used the golden ratio in the size of their canvases. The study concluded that the average ratio of the two sides of the paintings studied is 1.34, with averages for individual artists ranging from 1.04 (Goya) to 1.46 (Bellini). On the other hand, Pablo Tosto listed over 350 works by well-known artists, including more than 100 which have canvasses with golden rectangle and root-5 proportions, and others with proportions like root-2, 3, 4, and 6.

Book design

According to Jan Tschichold, "There was a time when deviations from the truly beautiful page proportions 2:3, 1:√3, and the Golden Section were rare. Many books produced between 1550 and 1770 show these proportions exactly, to within half a millimetre."

Perceptual studies

Studies by psychologists, starting with Fechner, have been devised to test the idea that the golden ratio plays a role in human perception of beauty. While Fechner found a preference for rectangle ratios centered on the golden ratio, later attempts to carefully test such a hypothesis have been, at best, inconclusive.


James Tenney reconceived his piece For Ann (rising), which consists of up to twelve computer-generated upwardly glissandoing tones (see Shepard tone), as having each tone start so it is the golden ratio (in between an equal tempered minor and major sixth) below the previous tone, so that the combination tones produced by all consecutive tones are a lower or higher pitch already, or soon to be, produced.

Ernő Lendvai analyzes Béla Bartók's works as being based on two opposing systems, that of the golden ratio and the acoustic scale, though other music scholars reject that analysis. French composer Erik Satie used the golden ratio in several of his pieces, including Sonneries de la Rose+Croix.

The golden ratio is also apparent in the organisation of the sections in the music of Debussy's Image, Reflections in Water, in which "the sequence of keys is marked out by the intervals 34, 21, 13 and 8, and the main climax sits at the phi position."

The musicologist Roy Howat has observed that the formal boundaries of La Mer correspond exactly to the golden section. Trezise finds the intrinsic evidence "remarkable," but cautions that no written or reported evidence suggests that Debussy consciously sought such proportions. Also, many works of Chopin, mainly Etudes (studies) and Nocturnes, are formally based on the golden ratio. This results in the biggest climax of both musical expression and technical difficulty after about 2/3 of the piece.Template:Citation needed

Pearl Drums positions the air vents on its Masters Premium models based on the golden ratio. The company claims that this arrangement improves bass response and has applied for a patent on this innovation.

In the opinion of author Leon Harkleroad, "Some of the most misguided attempts to link music and mathematics have involved Fibonacci numbers and the related golden ratio."


Adolf Zeising, whose main interests were mathematics and philosophy, found the golden ratio expressed in the arrangement of branches along the stems of plants and of veins in leaves. He extended his research to the skeletons of animals and the branchings of their veins and nerves, to the proportions of chemical compounds and the geometry of crystals, even to the use of proportion in artistic endeavors. In these phenomena he saw the golden ratio operating as a universal law. In connection with his scheme for golden-ratio-based human body proportions, Zeising wrote in 1854 of a universal law "in which is contained the ground-principle of all formative striving for beauty and completeness in the realms of both nature and art, and which permeates, as a paramount spiritual ideal, all structures, forms and proportions, whether cosmic or individual, organic or inorganic, acoustic or optical; which finds its fullest realization, however, in the human form."

In 2010, the journal Science reported that the golden ratio is present at the atomic scale in the magnetic resonance of spins in cobalt niobate crystals.

Several researchers have proposed connections between the golden ratio and human genome DNA.

However, some have argued that many of the apparent manifestations of the golden mean in nature, especially in regard to animal dimensions, are in fact fictitious.


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