Compass and Rule: Architecture as Mathematical Practice in England, 1500-1750

Thursday, February 18, 2010
Sunday, May 30, 2010

The spread of Renaissance culture in England coincided with the birth of architecture as a profession. This new professional identity was based on expertise in the mathematical arts and sciences, which raised its practitioners far above simple builders in social standing and perceived intellectual prowess. Compass and Rule examined the role of mathematics in architectural design and building technology, and the changing role of the architect from 1500 to 1750. The exhibition explored the innovative concepts of design based on mathematics—geometry in particular—that changed how architects worked and what they built. Identified as a branch of practical mathematics, architecture became at the same time the most artistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the arts.

Compass and Rule brought to the Center some of the finest architectural and scientific material from the early modern period—a wide range of objects from both public and private collections, featuring nearly one hundred extraordinary drawings, paintings, printed books, manuscripts, prints, maps, and unique mathematical instruments. The exhibition provided a new perspective on the emerging role of the architect by presenting works by both major figures and humble practitioners.

Wenceslaus Hollar, after Anthony Van Dyck, Portrait of Inigo Jones (detail), 1655, etching, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

Compass and Rule
was curated by Anthony Gerbino, architectural historian and Senior Research Fellow, Worchester College, University of Oxford, and Stephen Johnston, Assistant Keeper at the Museum of the History of Science, University of Oxford. The organizing curator at the Center was Elisabeth Fairman, Senior Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts.


Museum of the History of Science, Oxford:
June 16–September 6, 2009

Yale Center for British Art:
February 18–May 30, 2010