Among Renaissance-era artists, man was often framed within geometric shapes, most commonly (and most famously) squares and circles. However, humans are five vertex creatures (as are the majority of living organisms), a fact that perhaps lead other artists to depict man set within a circle divided into five equal parts: in other words, describing a pentagram. As shown in the mid-16th century illustration above, this artist envisioned man embracing all the quintessential (i.e. five essence) elements, including what later became known in Hollywood as the “force.” The symbols, starting at top and moving clockwise represent: spirit, water, fire, earth and air.
Albrecht Durer, one of the most famous geometer/artists of the Renaissance, developed a geometric construction that generated a five-sided polygon out of the interaction of a certain combination of circles with a square. Symbolically speaking, that exercise would be nothing less than the melding of the triadic cosmos with the earth, the home of man.
Durer’s construction – the pentagon is in red.
The free downloadable pamphlet we’ve made available here presents the sequence of steps that takes us all the way from a dimensionless point to a pentagon. As we go along, we see how Albrecht’s construction generates the necessary sequence of geometric shapes (circles, triangles, hexagon and square) to get us there. We’ll briefly describe some of the symbolism behind each of the construction phases and then, finally, take a look at whether or not this whole thing is, in mathematical truth, “real.” At that point it’s up to you to decide if any of this symbolic understory has anything at all to do with the design and layout work of artisans (which we have explored at length in our books “By Hand and Eye” and “From Truths to Tools.”) In our opinion: Probably nothing, but possibly everything!
— Jim Tolpin, byhandandeye.com