History of Science Museum: Collection Database Search


Inventory No. 90861 - Exhibition Label 'Compass & Rule; Architecture as Mathematical Practice in England 1500-1750'

Geometry and Architecture Joined

In 1620 Henry Savile began the lectures that inaugurated his new Oxford professorships of geometry and astronomy. The professors were based in the Bodleian Library's Tower of the Five Orders. In the same year Clement Edmondes, a diplomat and municipal official of London, donated this 'mathematical model' to the library.

The alabaster sculpture combines geometry and architecture. Each side of the central column contains a rusticated version of one of the five architectural orders, with the fragmentary remains of the five Euclidean regular solids around the base. The whole is surmounted by a large dodecahedron, to which Plato had ascribed cosmological significance as reflecting the structure of the heavens. The model acts as a sort of symbolic and pedagogical machine, with the correspondence between the five geometrical solids and the five architectural orders providing part of the work's basic conceit.

32: Museum of the History of Science, Oxford; on loan from the Bodleian Library

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