Proportion, Formulae and Aesthetics

Following on from Getting a Handle on Proportion, it appears that my dismissal of some of the classic rules of proportion (comment 9) has caused upset amongst the ranks. One reader who emailed me attached two pictures of chests with dimensional overlays, arguing that the golden ratio was applicable in both cases – that it worked to within about an inch. Well, as I said to the author, a formula either works or it doesn’t.

I am sure there are examples of chairs, chests and tables that happen to answer perfectly to either the Fibonacci sequence or golden ratio, but I don’t believe either formula played any part in the average eighteenth-century cabinetmaker’s enlightenment.

The placement of handles on chests-on-chests can make for interesting study: The vertical spacing of the handles – if ‘right’ – are usually only right for the upper chest (as the lower chest is generally wider), though if the overall proportions of the piece are pleasing, then the ‘wrongly’ spaced handles on the lower chest are redressed by the agreeable appearance of the whole (fig. 1).

Geo_III_red_walnut_COC_c1760_01aFig. 1. A magnificent George III red walnut chest-on-chest, circa 1760. (Millington Adams)

The less common deviation of the vertical handle lines (at the point where the upper chest meets the lower chest) of the chest-on-chests in figures 2, 3 & 4, in my opinion, displays great genius and restores the balance.

Geo_III_rosewood_COC_c1760_01cFig. 2. George III rosewood chest-on-chest, circa 1760. (Bonham’s)

Geo_III_mahogany_COC_c1775_01aFig. 3. George III mahogany chest-on-chest, circa 1775.

Geo_III_mahogany_COC_c1790_Anthony_Short_01aFig. 4. George III mahogany chest-on-chest, circa 1790.

And a few less comely chests just for comparison…

Geo_III_mahogany_tallboy_c1765_01aFig. 5. George III mahogany chest-on-chest, circa 1765. (Christie’s)

Geo_III_mahogany_COC_c1790_01aFig. 6. George III mahogany chest-on-chest, circa 1790. (Dreweatts)

Geo_III_mahogany_COD_c1800_01aFig. 7. George III mahogany chest, circa 1800. (Dreweatts)

Jack Plane

About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in Antiques, Cabinet Fittings and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Proportion, Formulae and Aesthetics

  1. When I read your comment #9, on the “Getting proportion right” post I thought: finally someone who has grappled with correctly sizing a drawer tells it like it is. It is art.
    I often start off sizing drawers using a mathematical proportion but to make it look right to my eye I ivariably make slight changes that are, well shall we say off grid.
    Of course that is not to say that anyone else likes or cares for my choice.
    Getting proportion right is one of my favourite posts, but I did enjoy the one about the stuffed dog too!


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