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Subtle Renaissance: A Rival Revival

Have you ever checked out  “A Subtlety…” by Kara Walker?   No?  How about The Parthenon? Again, no?   Hopefully, after learning about each—perhaps, it will motivate or encourage the reader(s) to check out the world.  To be clear, these artistic gems having nothing to do with each other—they are just worth learning about.   Both old and new within the world…is cool.  The focus on each work will highlight their respective use of scale and proportion.

Walker’s work, commonly known as  “A Subtlety…” may also be identified as The Marvelous Sugar Baby followed by the subtitle: “an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.”

The Marvelous Sugar Baby: an Homage stresses an intentional manipulation that relies upon distortion of size to create a commanding presence that is designed to deliver a compelling message—not so subtlety.  Hence, the “A Subtlety” title—ironic, eh?


30 November Subtlety
Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety…”


Walker’s work efficiently parodies a historically typical carved sugar centerpiece.  The gross exaggeration of scale challenges the viewer to question and perhaps to discover the history of the sugar industry and its ties to both slavery and generational exploitation.

“A Subtlety…” is keen in highlighting a social commentary within the artistry through the use of an in-your-face style that is not so subtle in delivering the intended message.  This sculpture shows that an atypical scale can be as useful as symmetrical works, such as the Parthenon, that strive for perfection.


The Parthenon


The Parthenon uses mathematics to establish aesthetic beauty created by harmonious proportion and symmetry.

The Parthenon utilizes a proportional relationship between the height and width of the columns.  The design intends to establish a perfect equality.  Furthermore, this symmetrical perfection even extends to both the horizontal support beam and the columns.  Additionally, near ideal proportionality is achieved with the calculated size, placement and number of poles to establish the desired result–symmetrical perfection.


parthenon golden rule outline
A Diagram of The Parthenon/Golden Ratio


One may also notice the strive for perfection is also evident by the differential column placement between the Parthenon’s short end and the sides.  The design of the Parthenon is commonly referred to as a work that utilizes the Golden Ratio.  Sometimes, the claim is disputed–which is an example of what genius people debate over.

What is the Golden Ratio?

1.168–Haha.  That is true.  If you ever go on the game show–Jeopardy, they could ask that–and you’d know the answer.  Thus, just in case, that unlikelihood occurs–you are welcome.

Like Pi’s constant 3.14 value, the Golden Ratio (also known as Phi) is always 1.168 or–somebody messed up.

Phi represents the golden number of 1.168, but what does mean?

The Golden Ratio is a mathematical calculation that can be traced back to a Greek mathematician by the name of Euclid.  Surprisingly, there is more than one famous Euclid, but this particular Euclid is often cited to be the “father of geometry.”   In the case of construction, the Golden Ratio (1.168) is frequently viewed as being the key to producing an aesthetically pleasing and “perfect” structure.

The Parthenon is an exceptional display of classical architectural beauty.  It established a standard, a high bar for later architecture to claim their own perfection.  However, in time, new structures would not only challenge the brilliance of the Parthenon, but they may have also possibly succeeded in doing so.

One such work that rivals the excellence of the Parthenon is the Villa La Rotonda designed by Andrea Palladio.


la Rotunda picture.JPG
The Villa La Rotonda


However, it is worth noting that the Villa La Rotonda was built during the late 1500s–over 2,000 years after The Parthenon.

The Villa La Rotonda offers majestic visual aesthetics (or beauty) along with perfect proportion.  This masterpiece is not only a shining example of Renaissance architecture but also the excellence that can be created through the usage of proportion, equilibrium, and radial balance.  However, this writing will not explore the Villa La Rotonda’s design–maybe future works will.  The point of this article is to encourage one to seek knowledge, to discover, and to just realize the world around you–the history, the achievement, and that math can be useful.

In conclusion, one can visit the Parthenon or The Villa La Rotonda, for more information:

The Parthenon in Athens, Greece

The Villa La Rotunda located in Northern Italy about a 10-minute walk from the city of Vicenza.

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3 thoughts on “Subtle Renaissance: A Rival Revival

  1. From one click, to another, and another… “A Subtlety”. I share your dream of connecting through curiosity.

    1. It is nice to make your acquaintance. Furthermore, a dream shared is often the first step to somewhere. Please, feel free to share any ideas, thoughts, or just general conversation. Curious minds are always one perfect thought away from a marvelous imperfection. That’s weird, huh?

      1. I’d rewrite that-stealing your idea here. “Curious minds are always one imperfect thought away from understanding some marvelous perfection.” Likewise, on making your acquaintance. Your post reminded me of a video, “Nature by Numbers”.

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