Architecture and Instruments

Ottavio Revesi Bruti’s architectural sector, the ‘archisesto’, was published in 1627. It had no discernible impact in its native Italy but a century later the accompanying treatise was translated into English and dedicated to the ‘architect earl’ Lord Burlington. Though unsigned, this unique example can be attributed to Thomas Heath, who acted as publisher for the text. The design closely follows the Italian original in inscribing the proportions of the five orders onto the arc. In use, the two movable legs are set on the arc and dimensions determined and taken off with dividers. 59: Museum of the History of Science

Mathematics was proclaimed as a pleasurable recreation as well as a useful pursuit, and instruments were attractive to gentlemen virtuosi as well as active practitioners. In the fashionable West End of London the well-stocked shops of leading 18th-century makers lured customers with an aesthetic of ingenuity, novelty, rational entertainment, and polite accomplishment.

The early tradition of mathematical practice had demonstrated its value to the building trades through the improvement of quantity surveying. Beginning in the later 17th century, there was a new initiative to extend the scope of mathematics further by embodying the proportions of the five orders in instruments. The most vigorous efforts to instrumentalise architectural design were made by Thomas Heath in the 1720s and 1730s. Heath was a mathematical instrument maker based in the Strand, but he also acted as a publisher, orchestrating architectural interest by marketing instruments together with books explaining their use. Many of the instruments were variants of the sector, a popular all-purpose calculating device that was particularly useful for rescaling in proportion.

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