Lionel March To order this book, click
here!Reviewed by Mark Peterson
Lionel March, author of What did number and proportion MEAN in the Renaissance? This
question is examined, investigated, and turned every way in We may take "musical proportion" as a well-established
Renaissance concept, but what are we to make of "gendered
number," "ethical number," "shapeful number,"
"theological number," "occult number," "playful
number," and "right triangular number," to mention
only a few chapter titles, and to say nothing of the many varieties
of proportion? The reader will correctly guess what some Consider, for example, "occult number." The tradition of associating letters with numbers, and thereby numbers with words and names, is foreign to us, but may have been quite natural to at least some humanists and their classical predecessors. Is it significant that MARCUS VITRUVIUS POLLIO is equivalent to the number 1701? That every name gives rise to numbers? The odd possibility that designs may encode words and names is kept fully in view. The Hebrew names of God give rise to numbers which can be arranged in intriguing patterns: who knew about this; who used it? March suggests that such numbers may have been used secretly in designs, their significance concealed from all but the most discerning. Similarly, the Old Testament is explicitly a source of numbers, like the dimensions of Noah's ark in Genesis, and the detailed description of the Tabernacle in Exodus. An amazingly complex number game, rithmomachia, somewhat like
chess, but with polygonal pieces, bearing numbers like 120, 190,
36, 30, 56, 64, 28, 66 (and different numbers on the opponent's According to Vitruvius, a temple "must have an exact
proportion worked out after the fashion of a finely-shaped human
figure."[2]
The attempts, beginning with Alberti in A fascination with square roots and higher roots is characteristic
of Renaissance arithmetic. Heron of Alexandria had given successive
approximation methods for representing irrational roots by rationals.
Thus 7:5 and 17:12 are rational "convergents" -- March
uses this admittedly anachronistic word -- to Indeed, there are so many innovations that when we return,
in the latter part of the text, to make sense of plans and designs,
knowing far more about number and proportion than we knew before,
there It is also, as I stressed above, a stimulus and reference
for the study of Renaissance mathematics in general. The great
mathematical problem of the Renaissance, as it seems in retrospect,
but also, to some extent, as it was seen at the time, was to
make sense of the irrationals. This is not a problem of architectonics,
but I found
return to text2. Cf. L. March,
Architectonics of Humanism, p. 103. To order this book from Amazon.com, click
here.
Mark
Peterson is professor
at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, USA,
with a joint appointment in physics and mathematics. His research
interests are topics in the physics of fluids, including most
recently a topic that fascinated Leonardo, turbulent flow.Copyright ©2000 Kim Williams Books top of
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