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Gianluca Foschi

Project title

The Role of Musical Proportions in Early Christian Buildings



Gianluca Foschi

Project description

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

Ancient musical science investigated the numerical proportions producing harmony in music. This was particularly true for harmonics. For example, it described the relation between pitch and length of strings. It aimed to grasp the aesthetic canons of universal beauty.

Scholars recognised the mathematical laws underlying music in the entire cosmos. They considered these laws as the archetype of the universe. We need to consider the character of musical proportions when studying sacred architecture between Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages. Indeed, the proportions of Solomon's Temple (1 Kings, 6) – an ideal reference for early churches – reflects musical intervals. Music was already an educational requirement for architects according to Vitruvius' De architectura. Church buildings have cosmic symbolism. This symbolism is likely to involve the archetypal concept of universal music (for example, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa).

Critics highlight the importance of early Christian architectural proportions. For example, the Fifteenth International Congress of Christian Archaeology recently put forward this view. But the extent to which harmonic science provided these proportions is not clear.

The use of musical proportions in Classical architecture (Edmund Thomas) and in Carolingian buildings (Carol Heitz, Willi Apel) is under assessment. New evidence now recognises it in Gothic churches (Alpay Özdural). There is debate about whether acoustic design was intentional in early churches (Sharon Gerstel, Bissera Pentcheva).

The fundamental harmonic musical proportions are 1:1, 2:1, 3:2, and 4:3. In the 90s, Hans Buchwald underlined their presence in several early Christian buildings. Buchwald raised important questions on the subject that remain unanswered.

Nadine Schibille has assessed the influence of three disciplines of the Quadrivium of liberal arts on late antique architects. The three disciplines were arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. The fourth mathematical subject of the Quadrivium is music. It is necessary to understand its usage in early Christian architecture. Analysing harmonic proportions in architecture will provide new insights on acoustics and intentionality. An elaboration of the topic is essential. It is part of an important trajectory of understanding of architecture from the classical to later periods. Reliable surveys should be the base for this elaboration. These must systematically take into account the complex field of ancient musical science together with the intentional acoustic properties of the buildings, .

I will gather reliable data on buildings through a transdisciplinary methodology. This will provide durable results of different typologies (small-scale, monumental urban), chronologies (4th-10th centuries) and areas (East-West; city-countryside). The main case studies, based on data obtained from 3D laser scanner surveys, are:

  • the Constantinian basilica of St John in Lateran in Rome 
  • the basilica of S. Apollinare in Classe near Ravenna 
  • the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul 
  • the church of Agios Ioannis Adissarou in Naxos

I will also consider published surveys whose methodology and approach guarantee a high level of precision in building records. These include Zenobia-Halabieh in Syria, Jerash in Jordan, and Cimitile in Italy.

My research will identify, assess and interpret any evident connections between architectural design and musical science. It will do this through an in-depth analysis of the modular system in comparison with written sources. I will use 3D digital models from laser scanner data to analyse the correlation between proportions and acoustics. I am using ODEON Auditorium software for this task. I will pay attention to recent researches (such as Icons of Sound, the CAHRISMA Project, and The Acoustics of Worship Places.

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.

I am carrying out the analysis of St John in Lateran within the Lateran Project on a 3D digital model. Professor Ian Haynes, Professor Lex Bosman, Professor Paolo Liverani and Iwan Pevrett kindly provided this model.

I am basing the analysis of the basilica of S. Apollinare in Classe on original data gathered in 2017 during a survey conducted by the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at Newcastle University in collaboration with the McCord Centre for Landscape and the National Museum of Ravenna.

The data on the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul are results obtained from the survey by Robert L Van Nice, and from the laser scanner survey conducted between 2001 and 2004 by Professor Volker Hoffmann and Dipl. Ing. Nikolaos Theocharis.

Photographic data on the Museum are from 2018 during an Erasmus+ Research Exchange at Koç University, Istanbul.

The Apalirou Environs Project, Naxos, surveyed the buildings in Naxos. Professor Sam Turner directed the project, in collaboration with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture (Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades), the University of Oslo and the University of Edinburgh.

Research grants

Robinson Bequest Scholarship 2018/19 
NUHRI Challenge Lab 2018 - Funded Project Entitled “Courting Power” - in collaboration with Johanna Latchem (project leader – Fine Art and History) and Dr Tim Shaw (Culture Lab) 
Bursary for the 2018 Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) international conference, March 2018, University of Tübingen, Germany 
Erasmus+ Bursary for research exchange at Koç University, February-May 2018 
Robinson Bequest Scholarship 2017/18 
Bursary for the 2017 International Byzantine Greek Summer School at Trinity College Dublin - provided by The Classical Association and Mr Timothy Lutz 
Robinson Bequest Scholarship 2016/17

Presentations and conferences

2018 - The 3d Survey of the Basilica of S. Apollinare in Classe - Presentation at 2018 Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) international conference, University of Tübingen, Germany.

2017 - Music and the Liberal Arts in the Early Byzantine Mediterranean - Seminar at GEM - Gate to the Eastern Mediterranean - Student Society for the Centre of Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies at the University of Birmingham

2017 - Transcendental Structures: Harmony and Architecture between Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Geç Antikçağ ve Ortaçağ Arasındaki Transandantal Yapılar, Harmoni ve Mimari) – Presentation held at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Istanbul, within the workshop entitled 'Digital Approaches to Landscape Analysis', jointly organised by Dr Günder Varinlioğlu and Professor Sam Turner.

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 - 2018 - 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. 
2017 – 3d Laser Scanner Survey of the Basilica of S. Apollinare in Classe near Ravenna – Newcastle University (Direction: Professor Sam Turner) in collaboration with the McCord Centre for Landscape and the National Museum of Ravenna 
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

Conference organisation

2018 - Exploring the Desertum – Approaches to the Study of Early Medieval Monastic Landscapes – British School at Rome (main organiser: Dr Emmet Marron)


2018/19 – ARA3016: The Archaeology of Byzantium and its Neighbours - Teaching Assistant (module leader: Dr Mark Jackson) 
2018/19 – HIS2240: Greece from Ancient Times to the 21st Century: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of the Past – Teaching Assistant (module leader: Dr Joseph Skinner) 
2017/18 – ARA8172: Graduate Seminar in Byzantine Archaeology - Teaching Assistant (module leader: Dr Mark Jackson) 
2017/18 – ARA2080: The Archaeology of Medieval Europe, AD 400-1500 - Teaching Assistant (module leaders: Dr Patrick Gleeson and Professor Sam Turner)

Permission Officer for the Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University


  • Foschi G., Book review: Laurence Wuidar, L'uomo musicale nell'antico cristianesimo. Storia di una metafora fra Oriente e Occidente, Bruxelles / Rome, 2016, in: Latomus. Revue d'Études Latines, 77/1, 2018, 302-305


  • 2013 - Honorary fellow in Christian and Medieval Archaeology, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy. 
  • 2009-2012 - Component of a research group "Ex 60%" - Alma Mater Studiorum - University of Bologna, Italy - directed by Roberta Budriesi, Professor of Christian and Medieval Archaeology and History of Art.


I completed 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 was in Christian Archaeology, entitled Il complesso di S. Giuliano a Rimini (The Complex of S. Giuliano in Rimini). I studied the features and development of a suburban area from Late Antiquity onwards. An ancient sanctuary played an important role in the evolution and modification of the area’s urban topography.

My Master's thesis was 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 explored new data from an area between two Apennine administrative and military strongholds. The archaeological and documentary data covered the period from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages.

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. 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 focused on archaeological data that shows how human beings have transferred their thought into tangible realities. I have investigated 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
  • archaeology and identity