School of History, Classics and Archaeology

Gianluca Foschi

Gianluca Foschi

The Role of Musical Proportions in Early Christian Buildings

Project outline

This project examines the extent to which representative case studies of early Christian architecture were intentionally based upon proportions derived from ancient musical theory and establishes how these elements were employed in the acoustics of early churches.

Ancient musical science investigated the proportions that produce harmony (e.g. length of strings) and was considered the mathematical discipline of proper measurement. Critics (e.g. Fifteenth International Congress of Christian Archaeology) have highlighted the importance of early Christian architectural proportions. Their connection to theology and scientific knowledge is now coming to light.

Ancient musical science needs to be systematically considered in this debate. Indeed, the proportions of Solomon's Temple (1 Kings, 6) – an ideal reference for churches – reflects musical intervals. Music already was an educational requirement for architects according to Vitruvius' De architectura. Furthermore, the church building represented a microcosm and early Christian authors (e.g. Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa) considered music to be the essence of the cosmos. The influence of three out of four disciplines of the Quadrivium of liberal arts (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy) on late antique architects has already been assessed (Nadine Schibille). Considering music - the fourth mathematical subject of the Quadrivium - is now necessary to understand its usage in early Christian architecture.

The employment of musical proportions, under assessment in Classical architecture (Edmund Thomas) and approached in Carolingian buildings (Carol Heitz, Willi Apel), is being recognised in Gothic churches through new evidence (Alpay Özdural). The presence of the fundamental harmonic musical proportions (1:1, 2:1, 3:2, 4:3) in several early Christian buildings has been preliminarily underlined in the Nineties by Hans Buchwald, who raised some important questions on the subject that still need to be answered. An elaboration of the topic, based on reliable surveys which systematically takes into account the complex field of ancient musical science together with the intentional acoustic properties of the buildings, is now essential as part of an important trajectory of understanding of architecture from the classical to later periods.

Reliable data on buildings will be gathered through a transdisciplinary methodology to obtain durable results on different typologies (small-scale, monumental urban), chronologies (4th-10th centuries) and areas (East-West; city-countryside). Published surveys whose methodology and approach guarantee a high level of precision in the recording of the building (e.g. Istanbul, Turkey; Zenobia-Halabieh, Syria; Jerash, Jordan; Cimitile, Italy) will be analysed as case studies. Other buildings (e.g. Naxos, Greece; Ravenna, Italy; Oviedo, Spain) will be surveyed through laser scanning and photogrammetry. 3D models will be designed to analyse the correlation between proportions and acoustic through ODEON software, with attention to recent researches (e.g. 'Icons of Sound'; ‘CAHRISMA Project’; ‘The Acoustics of Worship Places’).

Information will be gathered in a database and compared to ancient sources. An architectural design clearly governed by a proportional system that follows musical principles as described in written sources would demonstrate an intentional reference to musical science. The number of results would determine the extent of this phenomenon.

The data on the buildings in Naxos will be gathered within the Apalirou Environs Project, Naxos, directed by Professor Sam Turner in collaboration with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture (Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades), the University of Oslo and the University of Edinburgh.

Gianluca Foschi

Research interests

I completed both my bachelor's degree in Anthropological Sciences and my master's degree in Archaeology and Cultures of the Ancient World at the University of Bologna. My bachelor's thesis in Christian Archaeology, entitled 'Il complesso di S. Giuliano a Rimini' (The Complex of S. Giuliano in Rimini), studied the features and development - from Late Antiquity onwards - of a suburban area where an ancient sanctuary played an important role in the evolution and modification of the urban topography. The gathering of new archaeological and documentary data on the period between Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages over the area between two Apennine administrative and military strongholds has been the topic of my Master's thesis in Christian and Medieval Archaeology and History of Art, entitled 'Tra Sarsina e San Leo. Nuovi dati dal territorio' (Between Sarsina and San Leo. New Data from the Territory).

I have a great interest in music. I studied piano at the Academy of Music, I hold the Solfège, Music Dictation and Music Theory Diploma and I have been playing several musical instruments for many years. I have experience as a music teacher and I am currently active as a performer and composer. Through my anthropological and musical background, my research has been focused on archaeological data that shows how human beings have transferred their thought into tangible realities and how ideas and archetypes have been intentionally or subconsciously materialised.

I am interested in the information that material data reveals about ancient scientific and technical knowledge, philosophy, cosmology, religious beliefs, symbolism and psychology. For instance, I have investigated the meaning of ancient cultural practices such as the artificial cranial deformation in the Ostrogothic Kingdom. The relationship between musical knowledge and architecture in the early Christian framework is the topic of my PhD project at Newcastle University.

Other research interests include:

• Late Antique and Early Medieval architecture
• Worship places
• Landscape archaeology, spatial analysis and GIS
• Military strategies, fortifications, signal systems and watchtowers between Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages
• Archaeology of the Apennines Mountain between Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages
• Urban Topography

Presentations and conferences

2016 - The Petrification of Divine Sound – Musical Harmonies in Early Christian Buildings, presentation held at Newcastle University within the Creative Workshop of the McCord Centre for Landscape, entitled 'Petrification Processes. Concepts Across Subjects', hosted by Dr Sophie Hueglin.

2013 - Burial Archaeology and Ethnic Data, lecture held at the Great Hall of the National Academy of Sciences Humanities and Arts, Modena cycle of conferences pertaining to the course Archaeology between City and Territory from Late Antiquity to Middle Ages of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, held by Professor Roberta Budriesi.

2012 - Stones and Instruments, lecture held at the Great Hall of the National Academy of Sciences Humanities and Arts, Modena cycle of conferences pertaining to the course Archaeology between City and Territory from Late Antiquity to Middle Ages of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, held by Professor Roberta Budriesi.


Fieldwork experience

2016 - Fieldwork in Naxos, Greece - Apalirou Environs Project, Naxos - Newcastle University (Direction: Professor Sam Turner) in collaboration with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture (Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades), the University of Oslo and the University of Edinburgh.

2012 - Fifth archaeological excavation campaign at Montieri, Grosseto, Italy, on the medieval site of the rectory of San Niccolò - University of Siena, Italy (Direction: Professor Giovanna Bianchi).

2012 - Archaeological excavation campaign at Lyminge, Kent, United Kingdom - University of Reading, United Kingdom (Direction: Dr Thomas Gabor).

2011 - Archaeological excavation campaign at Capo Don, Riva Ligure, Imperia, Italy, on the site of the early Christian baptismal and funerary church and the underlying alleged statio of Costa Balenae - PIAC, Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology, Italy - University of Provence, France - Archaeological Superintendence of Liguria (Direction: Dr. Luigi Gambaro; Scientific Direction: Professor Philippe Pergola).

2009 - 2010 - Tenth and Ninth archaeological excavation campaign at the site of the castle of Miranduolo, Chiusdino, Siena, Italy - University of Siena, Italy (Direction: Professor Marco Valenti, Dr. Alessandra Nardini).

2008 - 2009 - Third and Second archaeological excavation campaign on the summit of St. Elias hill, Spoleto, Italy - Fondazione CISAM, “Centro Italiano di Studi sull'Alto Medioevo”, Italy (Direction: Professor Letizia Pani Ermini, Professor Ermanno Arslan).

Other roles

  • Private music teacher (2014-2015)
  • Honorary fellow in Christian and Medieval Archaeology (2013), University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy.
  • Component of a research group "Ex 60%" (2009-2012) - Alma Mater Studiorum - University of Bologna, Italy. This research group was hosted by Roberta Budriesi, Professor of Christian and Medieval Archaeology and History of Art.
  • Voluntary National Service: archival, digitization of photographic and archival material (especially concerning archaeology), cataloguing, library research (2008). Employer: Arci Servizio Civile Rimini; workplace: Gambalunga Public Library – Rimini, Italy. Project name: 'Collections and Public Use', proposed by Rimini Town Council, Italy.