Anthropomorphism In Stonehenge, City Of Pompeii And Milan Cathedral

Anthropomorphism is clearly seen within the varying structural systems throughout architectural history and hence slight shifts in human culture are able to be observed as a result of the different geometric systems that buildings are built upon. Varying geometric systems between Neolithic, Roman and Gothic architecture each have their individual style which are unique to the cultural values of their time. The geometric system of Stonehenge provides a valuable insight into Neolithic and Bronze Age practices that revolve around the movement of the sun rather than the human body. City of Pompeii reflects the Romans’ emphasis on the centre whereas Gothic architecture is the form of ‘language that does not address human eyes, but the eye’s of heaven.’ This notion of thinking is clearly seen through Milan Cathedral. When religion came into existence, the conceptual thinking of ’the body carries in it a representation of all the most glorious and perfect works of God as being an epitome or compendium of the whole creation’ and thus, the human body became a source for the various geometric systems used thought architectural history in order to represent perfection as seen by Milan Cathedral and City of Pompeii whereas during the Neolithic period religion was not a substantial aspect of daily life and thus, the changing importance of anthropomorphism can be deduced.

The Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument built 2400BC and 2200 BC. Despite its simple appearance, it had sophisticated knowledge of geometry that was not sourced from the human body but rather built upon the the movement of celestial objects; sun, moon and planets. Celestial alignments played a substantial role in neolithic daily life as it determined the ceremonies they had, hunting activities swell as agricultural activity. Thus accurate readings resulted in an orderly calendar. Unlike City of Pompeii, The Stonehenge was not habitable but rather a place or ceremony as well as a lunar observatory. Similar to Milan Cathedral, The Stonehenge was built over a vast period of time due to spacial organisation, each new addition to the sight was a new astronomical observation. Therefore, the Stonehenge is not one building but many. “The space was always there but each generation gave it a different sense of place with meanings and values in accord with the ever-changing relationships between themselves and the beliefs they held”.

Within the structure is an 87m diameter circle that incorporate a 56 sided polygon within its area. A rectangle can be constructed from the four sarsen stones and when split in half diagonally, they form 2 pythagorean triangles. From each sarsen stone, an individual could see an astronomical alignment when looking at another sarsen stone. Eight lines that radiate from this structure are in alignment with significant dates originating from the Neolithic calendar: summer, winter solstices as well as spring and autumn equinoxes. Neolithic peoples were animists which meant that they did not have specific gods but rather each and every element of the natural world had a self conscious, thus anthropomorphism was not prominient in the structural system of the Stonehenge. They were concerned with dating accurately rather than achieving a form of perfection when compared to Roman and Medieval Architecture.

City of Pompeii was an ancient Roman city that housed approximately 25000 at its peak. The Romans’ followed the geocentric model where Earth was the centre of the universe rather than the sun. Therefore the sun, moon, stars and planets all orbited Earth. Thus, “the Roman world view, placing themselves in the center of the universe, permeates their design at all scales” Religion was a substantial aspect of daily Roman life. Many Gods/Goddesses had temples built dedicated to them as well as artworks about them. They were considered heavenly beings that resided in heaven and thus, Pompeii’s orientation as well as urban space are both based off from the heavens. Pompeii’s orientation were astronomical, the Romans had festivals for the solstices and thus the alignment of the respective city would be aligned with the solstices. This technique of urban planning is seen in via di Nola and via dell’ Abbondanza which both align with the summer solstice while via Stabiana aligns with the winter solstice. 

Within the structural plan of the city, two different geometric systems are seen in the housing. Majority of the housing in Pompeii are a ‘domus’ which follow two geometric systems Ad quadratum and the sacred cut both of which are based from a square and emphasis of the centre. The main difference between the two geometric systems is that Ad quadratum only employs a square and is a root 2 progression while the Sacred cut uses both the square and the circle. The pavement in a Domus also employed the Ad Quadratrum geometric system. The root 2 progression is constructed by creating a smaller square with its corners being the midpoint of the previous square’s sides and at a 45 degree angle. During the process of a ‘sacred cut’, a circle is squared. This is of great importance in cosmological geometry as the circle was of great importance to cosmological geometry because the “circle represented the spirit or unknowable features of the universe, while the square represented the comprehensible world”. As stated before, both geometric systems emphasise the centre, this stems from the Roman geocentric view. As well as having great cosmological significance the use of a square and circle have great proportional importance on a building. Originally, the use of a circle and square as a method of measurement derived from Vitruvius’s Ten Books of Architecture where he described the ideal human proportions of man which later on, was illustrated by Leonardo Da Vinci. For Vitrivius, the human figure should be the principal source of proportion as it was a perfect creation by God. Vitruvius’s description of the ideal figure was inscribed within a square with an outside perfect circle that would be reached when legs were spread to create and equilateral triangle as well as having the arms lifted slightly. Roman’s viewed godly beings and the human body as a perfect creation, and thus many of the architectural systems were sourced from human geometry to convey a sense of perfection in their buildings.

As previously stated, the Roman’s emphasis on the centre stems from their geocentric view and is seen through the structure of a ‘domus’ and its two geometric systems ‘sacred cut’ and ‘ad quadratum’. Both of which are significant due to the face that both shapes were considered to be ‘sacred’ shapes by Vitruvius as the human figure perfectly fits in the two shapes when measured from the central point of a human figure, the navel.Thus, during the Roman period, anthropomorphism was more significant when compared to the Neolithic period evidently seen by the geometric systems of Ad quadratum and sacred cut. However, the interest in celestial objects still remained as an interest due to the city’s orientation. Therefore, the use of anthropomorphism in architecture signified a shift in interests as well as human culture.

Milan Cathedral is one of the largest churches built in history during the gothic period taking nearly 4 centuries to finish building. Unlike Roman architecture, gothic architecture did not place humans at the centre but rather God himself. Intricate systems of geometry were used to reflect the divine nature of God. Plato described geometry as “The reference to the very laws of the divine will and harmony of being.” And through geometry, the eye of the divine was addressed. Cathedrals were thought of as the body of the lord and therefore without geometry, the cathedral will no longer be a house of god but an ordinary one. The ground work for Milan Cathedral would establish the height of the vaults and posts. The pre-established 16x16 braccia was the basis for establishing the heights of the imposts and vaults. The outer aisle vaults were fixed at 28 braccia, inner aisles at 42 braccia and nave at 56 braccia. Each of these values corresponded do the elevation that Stornaloco had developed. It included the use of equilateral triangles for the various heights and employing the multiples of 14 braccia. The equilateral triangle can be found in the vitruvian man when his legs are apart touching the circumference of the surrounding circle

The overall structure employs various systems of geometry such as Pythagorean triangles, euclidian and fractal. With these various languages, the Milan Cathedral ‘was an externalisation of a dual language that was meant to address human cognition through its details, while addressing the eye of the Divine through the overall structure, using what was thought to be the divine language of the universe.’ This is done though distinguishing between the form language and the pattern language. Euclidian geometry was used for the form language while fractal geometry was employed for the pattern language. Most major geometrical patterns that appear in Gothic architecture develop from a square within a circle, Ad quadratum and a triangle within a circle, Ad triangulum. The geometry of sacred buildings were specific and must be followed otherwise the building will not be protected from disasters. 

The Golden mean/ratio, was first established by Vitruvius in his description of a male figure. It is a specific value found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part. It is one of the most used proportional system used in architecture to mimic the divine proportion of the human figure and is derived from the vitruvian man and the ratio of the radius of the circle to the side length of the square. When used in sacred buildings, it is expresses the spritirual idea of the church as body of the lord. Ultimately, the notion of a geocentric concept had transitioned to one that revolved around God. Gothic architecture was constructed by humans to represent God in physical being. “To build a house of God without his geometry would be vain.” As seen through the abundance of geometry dedicated to God, it is clear that during the Gothic period Religion still played more of a substantial role when compared to the Ancient Roman era. Thus, anthropomorphism was a significant aspect of gothic architecture as multiple sacred geometries were employed to express the perfection of God. The interest in the movement of celestial objects were no longer an important aspect as religious belief took over.

Ultimately anthropomorphism is seen through the varying structural systems of Stonehenge, City of Pompeii and Milan cathedral. During the Neolithic era, people were more concerned about dating and their daily lives and therefore religion was not a leading factor in Neolithic architecture. This notion of thinking somewhat changed during the Roman architecture as religion was introduced as well as their geocentric theory. The interest of stars and lunar objects are not prominent during the medical period as all efforts of architecture were for God. Therefore when the architecture of the three different periods are compared, the changing importance of anthropomorphism can be seen. 

16 August 2021
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