Sunday, 16 May 2010

Phi in the face of beauty

The discussion on the relationship between Phi and the concept of beauty is an old one – and I doubt we would be brave enough to make any conclusion about it in the near future. It’s a somewhat worrying concept to many people: the idea that a number may be behind all that is considered beautiful; that beauty is not subjective, not a case of each to their own. Because Phi is arguably rooted in all nature, it could be that we decide something is beautiful because we have seen its proportions a million times already – and we like familiarity.

I have seen examples of Phi applied to the human face before and it is apparently a champion female tennis player whose face was most commonly used. I’m interested in the role of Phi in beauty though – and if I think of the most popularly beautiful person in recent history, I think of Marilyn Monroe.

I should explain as usual, for any readers unfamiliar with the subject, that Phi is simply a number (1.618) to be used to make proportions by the ratio 1:1.618. It’s also known as the Golden Section or Golden Ratio.

The images below speak for themselves. Look for yourself and all of the ways the lines complement the face. The significance here is that one number, Phi, is behind the relationship of every single pair of lines drawn. By mostly using the measurement between Marilyn’s chin and hairline I have drawn out the golden rectangle and divided it by the proportion 1:1.618. All of the lines below are proportional by that ratio and yet they play to Marilyn’s features incredibly accurately. Even the curve of her hair follows the pink Golden Curve when it spirals from her eye. She must have had a good stylist.

The penultimate image below tries squares as its marker. I began with one whose centre would be Marilyn’s eye and whose edge would touch the base of her chin. Then, reducing in size by 1.618, the squares even show us that her beauty mark is not out of place. We could try an endless number of shapes here to illustrate the wonder of Phi but they’re all fundamentally the same thing – lines whose positions relate b Phi.

The face is not the only human feature to have been analysed this way. In fact, Renaissance artists who dissected bodies (not only Leonardo) would have made such research using Luca Pacioli’s findings. Have a look at your hand – do you see how the ratio between the length of the palm and the length of the fingers looks roughly 1:1.618? Phi is all over us!

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