Reviewed: ‘Compass and Rule’

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions, reviews by Editor on October 22, 2010

Recently added to caa.reviews:

Anthony Gerbino and Stephen Johnston, Compass and Rule: Architecture as Mathematical Practice in England, 1500–1700, exhibition catalogue (Oxford and New Haven: Museum of the History of Science, Yale University Press, and Yale Center for British Art, 2009), 192 pages; ISBN: 9780300150933, $65.

Reviewed by Carolyn Y. Yerkes, Ph.D. candidate, Columbia University; posted 13 October 2010.

‘Compass and Rule: Architecture as Mathematical Practice in England, 1500–1750’ tells a story of social class played out in math class. In the exhibition and catalogue, Anthony Gerbino and Stephen Johnston chart the rise of the professional architect in the early modern era by presenting the tools of the trade. Subtitle notwithstanding, ‘Compass and Rule‘ does not focus on architecture itself but rather on architectural drawing, describing the development of drafting techniques and instruments which led to a division between the design and construction phases of building. Although Gerbino and Johnston are not the first scholars to make this argument about the relationship between drawing and professional organization—it was, for example, a focus of Henry Millon and Vittorio Lampugnani’s 1994 exhibition, ‘The Renaissance from Brunelleschi to Michelangelo’—their show added a new twist with its emphasis on the mathematical principles that British architects applied to their work. This differentiates their project from most of the scholarship on architectural drawings, where the main current rarely flows farther north than medieval France or Germany and tends to pool in the Italian Renaissance.

The scope of ‘Compass and Rule’ might strike some as narrow, since a quarter-century of architectural production cannot be viewed through a single lens without a few distortions. Yet the benefits of this approach are clear, as the authors’ willingness to test their thesis with objects brings several obscure issues into sharper focus. . . .

For the full review, click here» (CAA membership required)

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