Beauty in Numbers According to Titian

As I’ve been saying, beauty is everywhere – every area of nature, science, art, architecture, music, prose, poetry, and human interaction. But some of us need to educate ourselves before we can more fully enjoy the pleasures of beauty.

Beauty in nature, art, and literature were always easy for me to see. I got a vague understanding of the relationship of math to music when I began to play the piano in grade school. (I didn’t last long enough to perform well, but I did develop a love for good music.) I began to appreciate the people who relentlessly offered the world beautiful reactions to ugly provocations as a teenager facing the vagaries of growing up.

Only recently, have I begun to observe the beauty of numbers, largely through a book, The Way of Beauty by David Clayton:

“We are used to the idea today of numbers being used to communicate quantity — that is, to answer the questions of how much? or how many? This is unchanged from the past. However, we are not so used today to the idea that number can convey a quality. . . . . through a symbolism. . . .

“Although most people today are unaware of the idea of symbolic number and harmonious proportions, when presented with the beauty that it reflects, they respond. Millions of people visit Oxford every year. When they come as tourists, they do not head on the whole for the modern housing estates or industrial buildings on the outskirts of the city. Rather, they go to the older center of the town. . . . These tourists very likely do not know why they find these buildings beautiful, but they know that they do. . . .”

Another example of numbers being symbolic as well as used for measuring, is found in Francesco Giorgi’s notes from his 16th Century plans for building a church in Venice:

““April 1, 1535 – In order to build the fabric of the church with those fitting and very harmonious proportions which one can do without altering anything that has been done, I should proceed in there following manner. I should like the width of the nave to be nine paces which is the square of three, the first and divine number. The length of the nave, which will be twenty-seven will have a triple proportion, which makes a diapason and a dispense. And this is the mysterious harmony that when Plato in the times wished to describe the wonderful consonance of the arts and fabric of the world, he took this as the first foundation of his description.

“The fact that this was not an unusual approach and that the use of these numbers was not limited to the profession of architecture at this time is demonstrated by looking at the people who assessed Giorgio’s report. On reception of the Memorandum, the Doge consulted a committee of three experts who had to approve it before he would implement it, which they did. The three were a philosopher (a humanist called Sansovino), a famous architect called Sergio, and an artist, who was no less than Titian.”