In mathematics and the arts, two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to their maximum. The figure on the right illustrates the geometric relationship. Expressed algebraically, for quantities a and b with a > b,
where the Greek letter phi () represents the golden ratio. Its value is:
The golden ratio is also called the golden section (Latin: sectio aurea) or golden mean. Other names include extreme and mean ratio, medial section, divine proportion, divine section (Latin: sectio divina), golden proportion, golden cut, and golden number.
Many 20th century artists and architects have proportioned their works to approximate the golden ratio—especially in the form of the golden rectangle, in which the ratio of the longer side to the shorter is the golden ratio—believing this proportion to be aesthetically pleasing (see Applications and observations below). Mathematicians since Euclid have studied the properties of the golden ratio, including its appearance in the dimensions of a regular pentagon and in a golden rectangle, which can be cut into a square and a smaller rectangle with the same aspect ratio. The golden ratio has also been used to analyze the proportions of natural objects as well as man-made systems such as financial markets, in some cases based on dubious fits to data.
The golden ratio has fascinated Western intellectuals of diverse interests for at least 2,400 years. According to Mario Livio:
Some of the greatest mathematical minds of all ages, from Pythagoras and Euclid in ancient Greece, through the medieval Italian mathematicianLeonardo of Pisa and the Renaissance astronomer Johannes Kepler, to present-day scientific figures such as Oxford physicist Roger Penrose, have spent endless hours over this simple ratio and its properties. But the fascination with the Golden Ratio is not confined just to mathematicians. Biologists, artists, musicians, historians, architects, psychologists, and even mystics have pondered and debated the basis of its ubiquity and appeal. In fact, it is probably fair to say that the Golden Ratio has inspired thinkers of all disciplines like no other number in the history of mathematics.
Ancient Greek mathematicians first studied what we now call the golden ratio because of its frequent appearance in geometry. The division of a line into “extreme and mean ratio” (the golden section) is important in the geometry of regular pentagrams and pentagons. The Greeks usually attributed discovery of this concept to Pythagoras or his followers.
Euclid’s Elements (Greek: Στοιχεῖα) provides the first known written definition of what is now called the golden ratio: “A straight line is said to have been cut in extreme and mean ratio when, as the whole line is to the greater segment, so is the greater to the less.” Euclid explains a construction for cutting (sectioning) a line “in extreme and mean ratio”, i.e., the golden ratio. Throughout the Elements, several propositions (theorems in modern terminology) and their proofs employ the golden ratio.
The golden ratio is explored in Luca Pacioli’s book De divina proportione of 1509.
The first known approximation of the (inverse) golden ratio by a decimal fraction, stated as “about 0.6180340”, was written in 1597 by Michael Maestlinof the University of Tübingen in a letter to his former student Johannes Kepler.
Since the 20th century, the golden ratio has been represented by the Greek letter Φ or φ (phi, after Phidias, a sculptor who is said to have employed it) or less commonly by τ (tau, the first letter of the ancient Greek root τομή—meaning cut).
De Divina Proportione, a three-volume work by Luca Pacioli, was published in 1509. Pacioli, a Franciscan friar, was known mostly as a mathematician, but he was also trained and keenly interested in art. De Divina Proportione explored the mathematics of the golden ratio. Though it is often said that Pacioli advocated the golden ratio’s application to yield pleasing, harmonious proportions, Livio points out that the interpretation has been traced to an error in 1799, and that Pacioli actually advocated the Vitruvian system of rational proportions. Pacioli also saw Catholic religious significance in the ratio, which led to his work’s title. De Divina Proportione contains illustrations of regular solids by Leonardo da Vinci, Pacioli’s longtime friend and collaborator.
A 2004 geometrical analysis of earlier research into the Great Mosque of Kairouan reveals a consistent application of the golden ratio throughout the design, according to Boussora and Mazouz. They found ratios close to the golden ratio in the overall proportion of the plan and in the dimensioning of the prayer space, the court, and theminaret. The authors note, however, that the areas where ratios close to the golden ratio were found are not part of the original construction, and theorize that these elements were added in a reconstruction.
The Swiss architect Le Corbusier, famous for his contributions to the modern international style, centered his design philosophy on systems of harmony and proportion. Le Corbusier’s faith in the mathematical order of the universe was closely bound to the golden ratio and the Fibonacci series, which he described as “rhythms apparent to the eye and clear in their relations with one another. And these rhythms are at the very root of human activities. They resound in man by an organic inevitability, the same fine inevitability which causes the tracing out of the Golden Section by children, old men, savages and the learned.”
Le Corbusier explicitly used the golden ratio in his Modulor system for the scale of architectural proportion. He saw this system as a continuation of the long tradition of Vitruvius, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man”, the work of Leon Battista Alberti, and others who used the proportions of the human body to improve the appearance and function of architecture. In addition to the golden ratio, Le Corbusier based the system on human measurements, Fibonacci numbers, and the double unit. He took suggestion of the golden ratio in human proportions to an extreme: he sectioned his model human body’s height at the navel with the two sections in golden ratio, then subdivided those sections in golden ratio at the knees and throat; he used these golden ratio proportions in the Modulor system. Le Corbusier’s 1927 Villa Stein in Garches exemplified the Modulor system’s application. The villa’s rectangular ground plan, elevation, and inner structure closely approximate golden rectangles.
Another Swiss architect, Mario Botta, bases many of his designs on geometric figures. Several private houses he designed in Switzerland are composed of squares and circles, cubes and cylinders. In a house he designed in Origlio, the golden ratio is the proportion between the central section and the side sections of the house.
In a recent book, author Jason Elliot speculated that the golden ratio was used by the designers of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square and the adjacent Lotfollah mosque.
Leonardo da Vinci’s illustrations of polyhedra in De divina proportione (On the Divine Proportion) and his views that some bodily proportions exhibit the golden ratio have led some scholars to speculate that he incorporated the golden ratio in his paintings. But the suggestion that his Mona Lisa, for example, employs golden ratio proportions, is not supported by anything in Leonardo’s own writings. Similarly, although the Vitruvian Man is often shown in connection with the golden ratio, the proportions of the figure do not actually match it, and the text only mentions whole number ratios.
Salvador Dalí, influenced by the works of Matila Ghyka, explicitly used the golden ratio in his masterpiece, The Sacrament of the Last Supper. The dimensions of the canvas are a golden rectangle. A huge dodecahedron, in perspective so that edges appear in golden ratio to one another, is suspended above and behind Jesus and dominates the composition.
Mondrian has been said to have used the golden section extensively in his geometrical paintings, though other experts (including critic Yve-Alain Bois) have disputed this claim.
A statistical study on 565 works of art of different great painters, performed in 1999, found that these artists had not used the golden ratio in the size of their canvases. The study concluded that the average ratio of the two sides of the paintings studied is 1.34, with averages for individual artists ranging from 1.04 (Goya) to 1.46 (Bellini). On the other hand, Pablo Tosto listed over 350 works by well-known artists, including more than 100 which have canvasses with golden rectangle and root-5 proportions, and others with proportions like root-2, 3, 4, and 6.
According to Jan Tschichold,
There was a time when deviations from the truly beautiful page proportions 2:3, 1:√3, and the Golden Section were rare. Many books produced between 1550 and 1770 show these proportions exactly, to within half a millimeter.
Some sources claim that the golden ratio is commonly used in everyday design, for example in the shapes of postcards, playing cards, posters, wide-screen televisions, photographs, light switch plates and cars.
Ernő Lendvaï analyzes Béla Bartók’s works as being based on two opposing systems, that of the golden ratio and the acoustic scale, though other music scholars reject that analysis. In Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta the xylophone progression occurs at the intervals 1:2:3:5:8:5:3:2:1. French composer Erik Satie used the golden ratio in several of his pieces, including Sonneries de la Rose+Croix. The golden ratio is also apparent in the organization of the sections in the music of Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau (Reflections in Water), from Images (1st series, 1905), in which “the sequence of keys is marked out by the intervals 34, 21, 13 and 8, and the main climax sits at the phi position.”
The musicologist Roy Howat has observed that the formal boundaries of La Mer correspond exactly to the golden section. Trezise finds the intrinsic evidence “remarkable,” but cautions that no written or reported evidence suggests that Debussy consciously sought such proportions.
Pearl Drums positions the air vents on its Masters Premium models based on the golden ratio. The company claims that this arrangement improves bass response and has applied for a patent on this innovation.
Though Heinz Bohlen proposed the non-octave-repeating 833 cents scale based on combination tones, the tuning features relations based on the golden ratio. As a musical interval the ratio 1.618… is 833.090… cents .
In 2010, the journal Science reported that the golden ratio is present at the atomic scale in the magnetic resonance of spins in cobalt niobate crystals.
Several researchers have proposed connections between the golden ratio and human genome DNA.
However, some have argued that many of the apparent manifestations of the golden mean in nature, especially in regard to animal dimensions, are in fact fictitious.
The golden ratio is key to the golden section search.
Studies by psychologists, starting with Fechner, have been devised to test the idea that the golden ratio plays a role in human perception of beauty. While Fechner found a preference for rectangle ratios centered on the golden ratio, later attempts to carefully test such a hypothesis have been, at best, inconclusive.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Röber studied various Egyptian pyramids including Khafre, Menkaure and some of the Giza, Sakkara, and Abusir groups, and was interpreted as saying that half the base of the side of the pyramid is the middle mean of the side, forming what other authors identified as the Kepler triangle; many other mathematical theories of the shape of the pyramids have also been explored.
One Egyptian pyramid is remarkably close to a “golden pyramid”—the Great Pyramid of Giza (also known as the Pyramid of Cheops or Khufu). Its slope of 51° 52′ is extremely close to the “golden” pyramid inclination of 51° 50′ and the π-based pyramid inclination of 51° 51′; other pyramids at Giza (Chephren, 52° 20′, and Mycerinus, 50° 47′) are also quite close. Whether the relationship to the golden ratio in these pyramids is by design or by accident remains open to speculation. Several other Egyptian pyramids are very close to the rational 3:4:5 shape.
Adding fuel to controversy over the architectural authorship of the Great Pyramid, Eric Temple Bell, mathematician and historian, claimed in 1950 that Egyptian mathematics would not have supported the ability to calculate the slant height of the pyramids, or the ratio to the height, except in the case of the 3:4:5 pyramid, since the 3:4:5 triangle was the only right triangle known to the Egyptians and they did not know the Pythagorean theorem, nor any way to reason about irrationals such as π or φ.
Michael Rice asserts that principal authorities on the history of Egyptian architecture have argued that the Egyptians were well acquainted with the golden ratio and that it is part of mathematics of the Pyramids, citing Giedon (1957). Historians of science have always debated whether the Egyptians had any such knowledge or not, contending rather that its appearance in an Egyptian building is the result of chance.
In 1859, the pyramidologist John Taylor claimed that, in the Great Pyramid of Giza, the golden ratio is represented by the ratio of the length of the face (the slope height), inclined at an angle θ to the ground, to half the length of the side of the square base, equivalent to the secant of the angle θ. The above two lengths were about 186.4 and 115.2 meters respectively. The ratio of these lengths is the golden ratio, accurate to more digits than either of the original measurements. Similarly, Howard Vyse, according to Matila Ghyka, reported the great pyramid height 148.2 m, and half-base 116.4 m, yielding 1.6189 for the ratio of slant height to half-base, again more accurate than the data variability.