Claude Fayette Bragdon.

The Beautiful Necessity Seven Essays on Theosophy and Architecture online

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to radiate thence to still other centers in the loftier vaults which
finally meet in a center common to all.

[Illustration 30]

[Illustration 31]

[Illustration 32]

The tracery of the great roses, high up in the façades of the
cathedrals of Paris and of Amiens, illustrate Radiation, in the one
case masculine: straight, angular, direct; in the feminine: curved,
flowing, sinuous. The same _Beautiful Necessity_ determined the
characteristics of much of the ornament of widely separated styles
and periods: the Egyptian lotus, the Greek honeysuckle, the Roman
acanthus, Gothic leaf work - to snatch at random four blossoms from
the sheaf of time. The radial principle still inherent in the debased
ornament of the late Renaissance gives that ornament a unity, a
coherence, and a kind of beauty all its own (Illustration 35).

[Illustration 33]

[Illustration 34]

Such are a few of the more obvious laws of natural beauty and their
application to the art of architecture. The list is by no means
exhausted, but it is not the multiplicity and diversity of these laws
which is important to keep in mind, so much as their relatedness and
coördination, for they are but different aspects of the One Law, that
whereby the Logos manifests in time and space. A brief recapitulation
will serve to make this correlation plain, and at the same time fix
what has been written more firmly in the reader's mind.

[Illustration 35]

[Illustration 36]

First comes the law of _Unity_; then, since every unit is in its
essence twofold, there is the law of _Polarity_; but this duality is
not static but dynamic, the two parts acting and reacting upon one
another to produce a third - hence the law of _Trinity_. Given this
third term, and the innumerable combinations made possible by
its relations to and reactions upon the original pair, the law
of _Multiplicity in Unity_ naturally follows, as does the law
of _Consonance_, or repetition, since the primal process of
differentiation tends to repeat itself, and the original combinations
to reappear - but to reappear in changed form, hence the law of
_Diversity in Monotony_. The law of _Balance_ is seen to be but a
modification of the law of Polarity, and since all things are waxing
and waning, there is the law whereby they wax and wane, that of
_Rhythmic Change_. _Radiation_ rediscovers and reaffirms, even in the
utmost complexity, that essential and fundamental unity from which
complexity was wrought.

Everything, beautiful or ugly, obeys and illustrates one or another of
these laws, so universal are they, so inseparably attendant upon every
kind of manifestation in time and space. It is the number of them
which finds illustration within small compass, and the aptness and
completeness of such illustration, which makes for beauty, because
beauty is the fine flower of a sort of sublime ingenuity. A work of
art is nothing if not _artful_: like an acrostic, the more different
ways it can be read - up, down, across, from right to left and from
left to right - the better it is, other things being equal. This
statement, of course, may be construed in such a way as to appear
absurd; what is meant is simply that the more a work of art is
freighted and fraught with meaning beyond meaning, the more secure its
immortality, the more powerful its appeal. For enjoyment, it is not
necessary that all these meanings should be fathomed, it is only
necessary that they should be felt.

Consider for a moment the manner in which Leonardo da Vinci's Last
Supper, an acknowledged masterpiece, conforms to everyone of the laws
of beauty enumerated above (Illustration 32). It illustrates the law
of Unity in that it movingly portrays a single significant episode in
the life of Christ. The eye is led to dwell upon the central personage
of this drama by many artful expedients: the visible part of the
figure of Christ conforms to the lines of an equilateral triangle
placed exactly in the center of the picture; the figure is separated
by a considerable space from the groups of the disciples on either
hand, and stands relieved against the largest parallelogram of light,
and the vanishing point of the perspective is in the head of Christ,
at the apex, therefore, of the triangle. The law of Polarity finds
fulfilment in the complex and flowing lines of the draped figures
contrasted with the simple parallelogram of the cloth-covered table,
and the severe architecture of the room. The law of Trinity is
exemplified in the three windows, and in the subdivision of the twelve
figures of the disciples into four groups of three figures each. The
law of Consonance appears in the repetition of the horizontal lines
of the table in the ceiling above; and in the central triangle before
referred to, continued and echoed, as it were, in the triangular
supports of the table visible underneath the cloth. The law of
Diversity in Monotony is illustrated in the varying disposition of the
heads of the figures in the four groups of three; the law of Balance
in the essential symmetry of the entire composition; the law of
Rhythmic Change in the diminishing of the wall and ceiling spaces; and
the law of Radiation in the convergence of all the perspective lines
to a single significant point.

To illustrate further the universality of these laws, consider now
their application to a single work of architecture: the Taj Mahal, one
of the most beautiful buildings of the world (Illustration 36). It is
a unit, but twofold, for it consists of a curved part and an angular
part, roughly figured as an inverted cup upon a cube; each of these
(seen in parallel perspective, at the end of the principal vista) is
threefold, for there are two sides and a central parallelogram, and
two lesser domes flank the great dome. The composition is rich in
consonances, for the side arches echo the central one, the subordinate
domes the great dome, and the lanterns of the outstanding minarets
repeat the principal motif. Diversity in Monotony appears abundantly
in the ornament, which is intricate and infinitely various; the law of
Balance is everywhere operative in the symmetry of the entire design.
Rhythmic Change appears in the tapering of the minarets, the outlines
of the domes and their mass relations to one another; and finally,
the whole effect is of radiation from a central point, of elements
disposed on radial lines.

It would be fatuous to contend that the prime object of a work of
architecture is to obey and illustrate these laws. The prime object of
a work of architecture is to fulfill certain definite conditions in a
practical, economical, and admirable way, and in fulfilling to express
as far as possible these conditions, making the form express the
function. The architect who is also an artist however will do this
and something beyond: working for the most part unconsciously,
harmoniously, joyously, his building will obey and illustrate natural
laws - these laws of beauty - and to the extent it does so it will be a
work of art; for art is the method of nature carried into those higher
regions of thought and feeling which man alone inhabits: regions which
it is one of the purposes of theosophy to explore.



Carlyle says: "There is but one temple in the world, and that is the
body of man." If the body is, as he declares, a temple, it is not less
true that a temple or any work of architectural art is a larger body
which man has created for his uses, just as the individual self is
housed within its stronghold of flesh and bones. Architectural beauty
like human beauty depends upon the proper subordination of parts
to the whole, the harmonious interrelation between these parts, the
expressiveness of each of its function or functions, and when these
are many and diverse, their reconcilement one with another. This being
so, a study of the human figure with a view to analyzing the sources
of its beauty cannot fail to be profitable. Pursued intelligently,
such a study will stimulate the mind to a perception of those simple
yet subtle laws according to which nature everywhere works, and
it will educate the eye in the finest known school of proportion,
training it to distinguish minute differences, in the same way that
the hearing of good music cultivates the ear.

Those principles of natural beauty which formed the subject of the
two preceding essays are all exemplified in the ideally perfect human
figure. Though essentially a unit, there is a well marked division
into right and left - "Hands to hands, and feet to feet, in one body
grooms and brides." There are two arms, two legs, two ears, two eyes,
and two lids to each eye; the nose has two nostrils, the mouth has
two lips. Moreover, the terms of such pairs are masculine and feminine
with respect to each other, one being active and the other passive.
Owing to the great size and one-sided position of the liver, the right
half of the body is heavier than the left; the right arm is usually
longer and more muscular than the left; the right eye is slightly
higher than its fellow. In speaking and eating the lower jaw and under
lip are active and mobile with relation to the upper; in winking it is
the upper eyelid which is the more active. That "inevitable duality"
which is exhibited in the form of the body characterizes its motions
also. In the act of walking for example, a forward movement is
attained by means of a forward and a backward movement of the thighs
on the axis of the hips; this leg movement becomes twofold again below
the knee, and the feet move up and down independently on the axis of
the ankle. A similar progression is followed in raising the arm and
hand: motion is communicated first to the larger parts, through them
to the smaller and thence to the extremities, becoming more rapid and
complex as it progresses, so that all free and natural movements of
the limbs describe invisible lines of beauty in the air. Coexistent
with this pervasive duality there is a threefold division of the
figure into trunk, head and limbs: a superior trinity of head and
arms, and an inferior trinity of trunk and legs. The limbs are divided
threefold into upper-arm, forearm and hand; thigh, leg and foot. The
hand flowers out into fingers and the foot into toes, each with a
threefold articulation; and in this way is effected that transition
from unity to multiplicity, from simplicity to complexity, which
appears to be so universal throughout nature, and of which a tree is
the perfect symbol.


[Illustration 38]

[Illustration 39]

The body is rich in veiled repetitions, echoes, _consonances_. The
head and arms are in a sense a refinement upon the trunk and legs,
there being a clearly traceable correspondence between their various
parts. The hand is the body in little - _"Your soft hand is a woman of
itself"_ - the palm, the trunk; the four fingers, the four limbs; and
the thumb, the head;-each finger is a little arm, each finger tip a
little palm. The lips are the lids of the mouth, the lids are the
lips of the eyes - and so on. The law of _Rhythmic Diminution_ is
illustrated in the tapering of the entire body and of the limbs, in
the graduated sizes and lengths of the palm and the toes, and in
the successively decreasing length of the palm and the joints of the
fingers, so that in closing the hand the fingers describe natural
spirals (Illustrations 37, 38). Finally, the limbs radiate as it were
from the trunk, the fingers from a point in the wrist, the toes from
a point in the ankle. The ribs radiate from the spinal column like the
veins of a leaf from its midrib (Illustration 39).

[Illustration 40]

The relation of these laws of beauty to the art of architecture has
been shown already. They are reiterated here only to show that man is
indeed the microcosm - a little world fashioned from the same elements
and in accordance with the same _Beautiful Necessity_ as is the
greater world in which he dwells. When he builds a house or temple he
builds it not literally in his own image, but according to the laws of
his own being, and there are correspondences not altogether fanciful
between the animate body of flesh and the inanimate body of stone. Do
we not all of us, consciously or unconsciously, recognize the fact
of character and physiognomy in buildings? Are they not, to our
imagination, masculine or feminine, winning or forbidding - _human_,
in point of fact - to a greater degree than anything else of man's
creating? They are this certainly to a true lover and student of
architecture. Seen from a distance the great French cathedrals appear
like crouching monsters, half beast, half human: the two towers stand
like a man and a woman, mysterious and gigantic, looking out over city
and plain. The campaniles of Italy rise above the churches and houses
like the sentinels of a sleeping camp - nor is their strangely human
aspect wholly imaginary: these giants of mountain and campagna have
eyes and brazen tongues; rising four square, story above story, with
a belfry or lookout, like a head, atop, their likeness to a man is not
infrequently enhanced by a certain identity of proportion - of ratio,
that is, of height to width: Giotto's beautiful tower is an example.
The caryatid is a supporting member in the form of a woman; in the
Ionic column we discern her stiffened, like Lot's wife, into a pillar,
with nothing to show her feminine but the spirals of her beautiful
hair. The columns which uphold the pediment of the Parthenon are
unmistakably masculine: the ratio of their breadth to their height is
the ratio of the breadth to the height of a man (Illustration 40).



At certain periods of the world's history, periods of mystical
enlightenment, men have been wont to use the human figure, the soul's
temple, as a sort of archetype for sacred edifices (Illustration 41).
The colossi, with calm inscrutable faces, which flank the entrance to
Egyptian temples; the great bronze Buddha of Japan, with its dreaming
eyes; the little known colossal figures of India and China - all these
belong scarcely less to the domain of architecture than of sculpture.
The relation above referred to however is a matter more subtle and
occult than mere obvious imitation on a large scale, being based upon
some correspondence of parts, or similarity of proportions, or both.
The correspondence between the innermost sanctuary or shrine of a
temple and the heart of a man, and between the gates of that temple
and the organs of sense is sufficiently obvious, and a relation once
established, the idea is susceptible of almost infinite development.
That the ancients proportioned their temples from the human figure
is no new idea, nor is it at all surprising. The sculpture of the
Egyptians and the Greeks reveals the fact that they studied the body
abstractly, in its exterior presentment. It is clear that the rules
of its proportions must have been established for sculpture, and it is
not unreasonable to suppose that they became canonical in architecture
also. Vitruvius and Alberti both lay stress on the fact that all
sacred buildings should be founded on the proportions of the human



In France, during the Middle Ages, a Gothic cathedral became, at the
hands of the secret masonic guilds, a glorified symbol of the body
of Christ. To practical-minded students of architectural history,
familiar with the slow and halting evolution of a Gothic cathedral
from a Roman basilica, such an idea may seem to be only the
maunderings of a mystical imagination, a theory evolved from the inner
consciousness, entitled to no more consideration than the familiar
fallacy that vaulted nave of a Gothic church was an attempt to imitate
the green aisles of a forest. It should be remembered however that the
habit of the thought of that time was mystical, as that of our own age
is utilitarian and scientific; and the chosen language of mysticism is
always an elaborate and involved symbolism. What could be more natural
than that a building devoted to the worship of a crucified Savior
should be made a symbol, not of the cross only, but of the body


[Illustration 46]

The _vesica piscis_ (a figure formed by the developing arcs of two
equilateral triangles having a common side) which in so many cases
seems to have determined the main proportion of a cathedral plan - the
interior length and width across the transepts - appears as an aureole
around the figure of Christ in early representations, a fact which
certainly points to a relation between the two (Illustrations 42,
43). A curious little book, _The Rosicrucians_, by Hargrave Jennings,
contains an interesting diagram which well illustrates this conception
of the symbolism of a cathedral. A copy of it is here given. The apse
is seen to correspond to the head of Christ, the north transept to his
right hand, the south transept to the left hand, the nave to the body,
and the north and south towers to the right and left feet respectively
(Illustration 44).

[Illustration 47]

The cathedral builders excelled all others in the artfulness with
which they established and maintained a relation between their
architecture and the stature of a man. This is perhaps one reason why
the French and English cathedrals, even those of moderate dimensions
are more truly impressive than even the largest of the great
Renaissance structures, such as St. Peter's in Rome. A gigantic order
furnishes no true measure for the eye: its vastness is revealed
only by the accident of some human presence which forms a basis
of comparison. That architecture is not necessarily the most
awe-inspiring which gives the impression of having been built by
giants for the abode of pigmies; like the other arts, architecture is
highest when it is most human. The mediæval builders, true to this
dictum, employed stones of a size proportionate to the strength of
a man working without unusual mechanical aids; the great piers and
columns, built up of many such stones, were commonly subdivided
into clusters, and the circumference of each shaft of such a cluster
approximated the girth of a man; by this device the moulding of the
base and the foliation of the caps were easily kept in scale. Wherever
a balustrade occurred it was proportioned not with relation to the
height of the wall or the column below, as in classic architecture,
but with relation to a man's stature.


It may be stated as a general rule that every work of architecture,
of whatever style, should have somewhere about it something fixed and
enduring to relate it to the human figure, if it be only a flight of
steps in which each one is the measure of a stride. In the Farnese,
the Riccardi, the Strozzi, and many another Italian palace, the stone
seat about the base gives scale to the building because the beholder
knows instinctively that the height of such a seat must have some
relation to the length of a man's leg. In the Pitti palace the
balustrade which crowns each story answers a similar purpose: it
stands in no intimate relation to the gigantic arches below, but is
of a height convenient for lounging elbows. The door to Giotto's
campanile reveals the true size of the tower as nothing else could,
because it is so evidently related to the human figure and not to the
great windows higher up in the shaft.


The geometrical plane figures which play the most important part in
architectural proportion are the square, the circle and the triangle;
and the human figure is intimately related to these elementary forms.
If a man stand with heels together, and arms outstretched horizontally
in opposite directions, he will be inscribed, as it were, within a
square; and his arms will mark, with fair accuracy, the base of an
inverted equilateral triangle, the apex of which will touch the ground
at his feet. If the arms be extended upward at an angle, and the
legs correspondingly separated, the extremities will touch
the circumferences of a circle having its center in the navel
(Illustrations 45, 46).

[Illustration 50]

The figure has been variously analyzed with a view to establishing
numerical ratios between its parts (Illustrations 47, 48, 49). Some
of these are so simple and easily remembered that they have obtained
a certain popular currency; such as that the length of the hand equals
the length of the face; that the span of the horizontally extended
arms equals the height; and the well known rule that twice around
the wrist is once around the neck, and twice around the neck is once
around the waist. The Roman architect Vitruvius, writing in the age of
Augustus Cæsar, formulated the important proportions of the statues
of classical antiquity, and except that he makes the head smaller than
the normal (as it should be in heroic statuary), the ratios which
he gives are those to which the ideally perfect male figure should
conform. Among the ancients the foot was probably the standard of all
large measurements, being a more determinate length than that of the
head or face, and the height was six lengths of the foot. If the head
be taken as a unit, the ratio becomes 1:8, and if the face - 1:10.

Doctor Rimmer, in his _Art Anatomy_, divides the figure into four
parts, three of which are equal, and correspond to the lengths of
the leg, the thigh and the trunk; while the fourth part, which is
two-thirds of one of these thirds, extends from the sternum to the
crown of the head. One excellence of such a division aside from its
simplicity, consists in the fact that it may be applied to the face as
well. The lowest of the three major divisions extends from the tip of
the chin to the base of the nose, the next coincides with the height
of the nose (its top being level with the eyebrows), and the last with
the height of the forehead, while the remaining two-thirds of one of
these thirds represents the horizontal projection from the beginning
of the hair on the forehead to the crown of the head. The middle of
the three larger divisions locates the ears, which are the same height
as the nose (Illustrations 45, 47).

Such analyses of the figure, however conducted, reveals an
all-pervasive harmony of parts, between which definite numerical
relations are traceable, and an apprehension of these should assist
the architectural designer to arrive at beauty of proportion by
methods of his own, not perhaps in the shape of rigid formulæ, but
present in the consciousness as a restraining influence, acting and
reacting upon the mind with a conscious intention toward rhythm and
harmony. By means of such exercises, he will approach nearer to an
understanding of that great mystery, the beauty and significance of
numbers, of which mystery music, architecture, and the human figure
are equally presentments - considered, that is, from the standpoint of
the occultist.




It is a well known fact that in the microscopically minute of nature,
units everywhere tend to arrange themselves with relation to certain
simple geometrical solids, among which are the tetrahedron, the cube,
and the sphere. This process gives rise to harmony, which may be
defined as the relation between parts and unity, the simplicity latent
in the infinitely complex, the potential complexity of that which is
simple. Proceeding to things visible and tangible, this indwelling
harmony, rhythm, proportion, which has its basis in geometry and
number, is seen to exist in crystals, flower forms, leaf groups, and
the like, where it is obvious; and in the more highly organized world
of the animal kingdom also; though here the geometry is latent rather
than patent, eluding though not quite defying analysis, and thus
augmenting beauty, which like a woman is alluring in proportion as she
eludes (Illustrations 51, 52, 53).


[Illustration 53]

By the true artist, in the crystal mirror of whose mind the universal
harmony is focused and reflected, this secret of the cause and source
of rhythm - that it dwells in a correlation of parts based on an

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Online LibraryClaude Fayette BragdonThe Beautiful Necessity Seven Essays on Theosophy and Architecture → online text (page 4 of 6)