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V

AN OVERVIEW OF THE HISTORY OF DYNAMIC SYMMETRY

 

My discovery of Jay Hambidge's dynamic symmetry work answered many of the most intriguing questions I had long had about the design of so many famous fourteenth to sixteenth century Byzantine and Russian icons and their compositions.

I have always been interested in ancient Egyptian art and architecture. Later, in my Russian Studies courses, I came to admire icons - seeing in them the same sort of beauty of abstract design depicted in other classical representations that add meaning to their viewer, in the same fashion that we are transfixed by the artistic and architectural works of the ancients.

Now, in analysing and discussing and studying dynamic symmetry, the proportional system of design rediscovered by Jay Hambidge, I am almost overwhelmed to discover a probable connection between the ancient Egyptian art and architecture and Byzantine icon composition!

Now, as Jay Hambidge traced dynamic symmetry from ancient Egypt to ancient Greece, I want to trace, with the reader, the journey of dynamic symmetry through more recent time. I wish to show that it is possible and demonstratively probable for the use of this proportional system to have continued after its decline in Greece at the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. (which brought the beginning of the Hellenistic Age) through classical, Byzantine-based iconography.

 

Iconography: A review of the Pre-Christian Period

What we know today as "dynamic symmetry" was an off-shoot of a basic land area measuring system empirically discovered in ancient Egypt during the First Dynasty (c3000 B.C.). The Egyptians had developed the scheme for surveying, and remeasuring land. This scheme was born of necessity because the annual flooding of the Nile River destroyed property boundaries. To avoid disputes and ensure equitable taxation, these boundaries had to be re-established, and also the method had to be simple and practicable. It required only a cord or rope with four mathematically spaced knots. The measurements required the work of two men. These men were known as "rope-stretchers" (See Figure V-l below).

Figure V-l. Rope-stretcher

measuring ripe fields for length and height of grain in order to assess water tax. From the Tomb of Menna, No.69, Western Thebes, cl380 B.C. (detail)

 

In taking land and other measurements, the Egyptians knew that a 3, 4, 5 right-angle triangle would give them the east-west direction if it was bisected on the north-south line (See Figure V-2 below).

Figure V-2. The 3, 4, 5 right-angle triangle

From the larger operation of surveying, and fixing the ground plans of buildings by the power which the right-angle triangle gave toward the defining of ratio-relationship, it was a simple matter to extend and adapt this method to the other measurement uses. For example, elevation plans and the detail of ornament: in short, to apply design in general, to the proportioning and the spacing problems involved in the construction of buildings as well as those of pictorial composition, hieroglyphic writing and decoration. Analysis of the Egyptian bas-relief shows that the designers not only proportioned the pictures on the walls but the groups of hieroglyphics, by the application of "root" rectangles and squares (See Figure V-3 below).

Figure V-3. Ancient Egyptian wall painting

with a suggested analysis of dynamic symmetry design

 

Figure V-4. The ancient Egyptian knotted rope

showing the mathematically spaced knots.

 

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