Geometry within a painting about the geometric creation of the universe! Many people are familiar with this illumination from the French Bible Moralisee (Vienna, ONB 2554) circa 1250. This Bible is one of the two oldest examples of the "moralized bible" which conveyed the ideas through pictures, using the words as captions. The picture is sometimes called "G-d The Architect Of The Universe" or simply "G-d The Geometer" and is known by other names. It depicts Deity creating the universe as a golden sphere using a geometer's divider or "compass". Within the sphere of the living cosmos we see the World Soul. Its source is in Proverbs 8:27 -- "When He prepared the heavens, I was there: when He set a compass upon the face of the depth..." In Plato's Timaeus, which influenced Medieval thinkers and artists, he wrote [34b] : "He made it smooth and even and equal on all sides from the center, a whole and perfect body compounded of perfect bodies, And in the midst thereof He set Soul, which He stretched throughout the whole of it, and therewith He enveloped also the exterior of its body; and as a Circle revolving in a circle...." Among the many interesting relationships within the geometric composition of this painting is the relationship between the two largest circles, the universe and Divine halo: the diagonal across the square around the halo becomes the side of a square constructed around the (near-)circle of the universe (red lines, below) elegantly suggesting that an idea within Deity's mind became outwardly manifest as the universe. But my favorite part of this remarkable painting, however, is in the detail that His foot extends beyond the frame painted in the picture, reminding us of the mystery to where rationality and measure can never reach and paint nor words can ever go.


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Text (c) 2012 Michael S. Schneider