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Contemplating the Angle and the Circumference: Nicholas Cusanus and Divine Logos

Author: Nicholas Temple, University of Nottingham.

Panel: The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: Transformations in the Nature and Meaning of Knowledge, Saturday 10 July, 13.45-15.15.


This paper examines the nature and meaning of the angle and circumference in Renaissance metaphysics, and the influences of these terms of reference on the understanding of architectural space. The study focuses on two philosophical treatises by the German humanist and cardinal, Nicholas Cusanus, both meditations of finite human knowledge in the face of the infinitude of God. These are 'De Beryllo' ('On Intellectual Eye-Glasses'), a little tract on divine knowledge revealed through the aid of the eye-glass, and 'De Docta Ignorantia' ('On Learned Ignorance') a cosmological study dedicated to the paradoxical notion of the 'coincidence of opposites'. Each demonstrates the way geometry provides a mechanism for contemplating the divine and thereby bridge the divide that separates temporal and eternal worlds. The angle and the circumference constitute critical ontological conditions in which higher knowledge can be attained. These, as I will seek to demonstrate, have architectural implications particularly as they relate to the perspectivisation of space in the Renaissance.

The paper will examine this idea through an investigation of 'renovatio urbis' (urban renewal) in Papal Rome where questions of divine infinity take on spatial-temporal definition through the articulation of topography. In this redemptive view of space perspective operates as a modality of revealed knowledge, of 'Logos', transfiguring sacred testament (or the word of God) to the embodied (visual) experience of geometry.

Arts and Humanities Research Board School of Fine Art, History of Art & Cultural Studies University of Leeds