Circular forms appear overtly in many famous works of art and architecture, from the age of Stonehenge onward, but these visible circles are hardly the only ones that mattered to premodern artists, craftsmen and designers. The drawing compass was one of their most valuable and frequently employed tools, since its use in combination with the straight edge permitted the establishment of precise geometrical order without any need for carefully calibrated rulers or measuring rods. The layout and proportions of many premodern artefacts—and even many modern ones—thus become comprehensible only when the role of the compass in the creative process is taken into account. This talk demonstrates this principle using diverse examples ranging in date from the early Middle Ages to the twentieth century, including several in London collections: the Lindisfarne Gospels, a design drawing for the great Gothic tower of Ulm Minster and a painting by the Renaissance artist Piero di Cosimo.

Robert Bork received a BA in physics from Harvard University, an MS in physics from the University of California Santa Cruz and PhD in architectural history from Princeton University. Bork has authored numerous articles and books, most notably The Geometry of Creation (2011) and Late Gothic Architecture: Its Evolution, Extinction, and Reception (2018). He is currently Professor of Art History at the University of Iowa.

This event took place on 10 June 2021.