About Scotland Arts pages

Harmony and Proportion
by John Boyd-Brent

Squared Circle

Palladio: The Proportions of Rooms

"We shall therefore borrow all our Rules for the Finishing our Proportions, from the Musicians, who are the greatest Masters of this Sort of Numbers, and from those Things wherein Nature shows herself most excellent and compleat." Leon Battista Alberti (1407-1472)

When Andrea Palladio, (1508-1580), in The Four Books of Architecture, published in 1570, suggested

seven sets of the most beautiful and harmonious proportions to be used in the construction of rooms

he chose measurements which reflect musical consonances. He suggests;

CIRCLE 1. Circular
SQUARE 2. Square 1:1
Root 2
Square 3. The diagonal of the square 1:1.414....etc.
3:4 4. A square plus a third 3:4
2:3 5. A square plus a half 2:3
3:5 6. A square plus two-thirds 3:5
1:2 7. Double square 1:2

Compare these with Pythagoras's musical scale which we saw above:

The exception is the incommensurable proportion of the side of the square to its diagonal, or
1 : square root of 2.
(This proportion often occurs in both architecture and painting)

When Palladio goes on to talk about the generation of the height of rooms, he elucidates three types of proportion which are traditionally thought to have been discovered by Pythagoras: