Greeks, Illusion, and the 2 of Clubs

Today I am using a playing card deck published by Y & B Associates in New York in 1997. This one is Illusions in Art: Deck 1 – Classics. I went to a lot of trouble to obtain various illusions decks from this publisher back in the day when Internet ordering was not as easy, and I always pick up some new idea or tidbit of knowledge from them.

2 OF CLUBS – GREEK PARTHENON, ATHENS, ca 1438 B.C.

2Clubs_Parthenon

The columns on the Parthenon look nice and straight and evenly spaced, except they are not. Because of the way the human eye sees things and the attendant optical distortions, the columns are slightly thicker in the middle, and the middle columns are spaced wider apart so that when viewed from a distance, it all looks symmetrical and correct.

Vitruvius, who was a Roman architect and civil engineer from the first century A.D., came up with the theory that the Greeks, knowing of these optical illusions, factored in these slightly altered dimensions when building the Parthenon. The elements on the facade tilt outward a bit and the columns tilt inward by about 2 inches, which again supposedly relates to in-built counter-perspective. I’m not sure about that one, maybe the building is just old and has moved? But it is certain the columns were built with bulges and odd spacing and the Greeks had been doing such things for a hundred years or more before the Parthenon was built, and they skewed dimensions inside the building as well for the same reason.

And I learned this from a playing card, having missed the special about the Parthenon on the PBS NOVA series which explained some of this. Vitruvius I know from Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man which was based on notes on human dimensions by Vitruvius.

So, that came together into a good little study.

 

 

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