What Actually is The Golden Ratio?

By: Joanna Wallace

Golden Ratio T-Shirt at Zumiez

Recently, I saw this t-shirt at Zumiez and I was a little surprised that the Golden Spiral was on a shirt being bought by skateboarders. After seeing another shirt in this Zumiez as well as seeing it in one or two other places, I began to wonder if the people creating, selling, or buying it even know what the Golden Ratio or Golden Spiral is and what it is used for. That’s where this blog comes in!

BASICALLY, the Golden Ratio is a mathematical equation called “Phi” which is a ratio of 1:1.618; and the use of it in design and architecture is thought to be the most pleasing to the eye. When a rectangle is made with the length and width matching the ratio, if a square is divided into the rectangle, another golden rectangle is leftover-this is what you can see in the spiral image. Therefore, it is a never-ending equation and spiral.

Phidias, a Greek sculptor and mathematician whom the equation is named for, is popularly thought to have implemented the golden ratio and golden rectangles into the design of the Parthenon, exemplified here:

golden parth small

In 1509, Luca Pacioli wrote a book that refers to the number as the “Divine Proportion,” which was illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo then started studying the golden ratio at length, and implemented it into many of his drawings and paintings:

Leonardo’s “Vetruvian Man” is from Pacioli’s book about the divine proportion
Leonardo’s “Anunciation” also shows use of the golden ratio in the division of the subject and is even pointed to by the people in the composition

Other paintings and designs can also easily be analyzed and found to contain the golden ratio in some part of the subject, which could add to the power and beauty of the compositions.

Michaelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” is a perfect example of the use of the ratio


Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring” shows the use of the ratio leading the viewer to focus on the eyes of the girl


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