The Parthenon in Athens: its facade is said to be circumscribed by golden rectangles, although some scholars argue this is a coincidence. Photograph: Katerina Mavrona/EPA

From Leonardo da Vinci to Le Corbusier, the golden ratio is believed to have guided artists and architects over the centuries.

Leonardo is thought to have used the golden ratio, a geometric proportion regarded as the key to creating aesthetically pleasing art, when painting the Mona Lisa. The Dutch painter Mondrian used it in his abstract compositions, as did Salvador Dali in his masterpiece The Sacrament of the Last Supper.

Now a US academic believes he has discovered the reason why it pleases the eye. According to Adrian Bejan, professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina, the human eye is capable of interpreting an image featuring the golden ratio faster than any other.

Bejan argues that an animal’s world – whether you are a human being in an art gallery or an antelope on the savannah – is orientated on the horizontal. For the antelope scanning the horizon, danger primarily comes from the sides or from behind, not from below or above, so the scope of its vision evolved accordingly. As vision developed, he argues, animals got “smarter” and safer by seeing better and moving faster as a result.

“It is well known that the eyes take in information more efficiently when they scan side to side, as opposed to up and down. When you look at what so many people have been drawing and building, you see these proportions everywhere.”

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Karen McVeigh
Guardian

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