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A video that was part of the exhibition The Sword - Form & Thought; introducing the role of geometry in medieval philosophy, art, engineering and sword design.

The swords used as examples in this video were all part of the exhibit and not chosen on the basis of harmonic proportions or geometry. Only after they were selected did I document them and submit them to analysis for possible geometric principles underlying their design.

The video is 15 minutes and rather slow paced. I can completely understand if you do not have time or peace of mind to sit though it.
It consists of three sections:

- Background, showing the role of geometry in medieval philosophy, religion and engineering/architecture

- Some basic geometric constructions that were common principles in medieval design.

-A selection of examples of geometry and harmonic proportions in the swords of the exhibition.

Hope you enjoy!






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Hello Peter,


This is brilliant.


A question please as I've been struck by the beauty of the sword used for the book and exhibition cover.

I think it's called the boy's sword. The pommel intricate design and overall proportions are very appealing to me.


Do you know where I can find the measures and proportions of that sword ? I would love to re-create it someday.



Hope to see you again soon



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Thank you Stéphane!

In the catalogue you have many important dimensions for the sword and a graph showing its dynamic properties. This is *much* more information than is normally published on swords.
Not all dimensions can be published in a catalogue, unless it is double or triple the volume. And then you would still have to exclude some data.

If the information included in the catalogue is not enough for you to go by (remember that the line drawing is an exact representation of the sword without the normal shift of proportion from the parallax of the camera objective), your option is to contact the museum and ask them to take measurements directly from the sword, or to do the pilgrimage yourself and make your own documentation.
This is always to best option. You can never replace your own impressions and your own data with that from a book.
Hopefully the catalogue will come in on a good second place, however :-)

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Do you feel that your illustrator background and developed sense of proportion may have subconsciously drawn you to items in the collection which fit a certain ratio?



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Hi Ric,


Internalized ideas do play a role for all of us that are makers, I think.

However, in this case there were not a lot of swords to choose from from the period in question. The Deutsches Klingenmuseum has a large collection, but they do not have very many medieval swords. We included most (or all) that were of good enough shape and of reliable provenance. The exhibit also included loaned swords from other collections, but in these cases there was also no question of leaving out swords that did not look "nice" or did not follow certain proportional criteria. Some swords were acquired that were well known (sword of Saint Georg and the arch bishop's sword from Köln) and these were chosen not for thier proportions, but because they were of historical importance. The ones that came from a private collection were also chosen on the basis of authenticity and nothing else.


It is also noteworthy that many "ugly" swords can follow a beautiful, clear and coherent geometric structure for their proportions.


Training in art is certainly a help in analysis and can also be a kind of "radar" like you suggest. But I do not think it is necessary: you can be sensitive to these things intuitively just like some people have a good ear for music, without having formal musical training. That is why principles of harmonic proportion are efficient design tools. A way to tap into the subconscious, so to say.


It must also be pointed out that a sword that has nice proportions does not necessarily conform to geometric principles. It seems like this is something that is typical primarily for European continental swords from the tenth to the fifteenth centuries.


In the case of this exhibition, I had a group of swords to work with where I in almost all cases had no idea wether they did conform to geometric principles or not. The result of the analysis is evident in the catalogue: only a few medieval swords do not conform to coherent geometric principles. In some cases I feel a bit hesitant if my suggested solution is valid where it might involve unusual or seemingly complex elements. In almost all cases the proportions of the swords can be defined with fairly standard solutions that are similar to other swords that I have previously analyzed. What the result of the analysis would be was a kind of test for me in this exhibit, since I had less control of the total selection, than if I had visited a number of different museum and picked a similar number of swords. In such a situation, it may have been more likely that I had subconsciously picked such swords that confirmed my hypothesis.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Wow! That was truly, truly excellent. I'll definitely be revisiting that video.

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