Nineteenth Century Victoriana was funky, like Steampunk is funky. Some call Steampunk Victorian science fiction. The terminology, Steampunk, is a 20th century invention. It is Victoriana revisited in exaggerated form. It is neo-Victoriana.

Previously, I talked about the effects of the Industrial Revolution’s machine-made products. If you wanted to appear rich, acquisition of machine-made products was protocol. The products were usually poorly designed, over-designed, and multi-faceted.  Classical, good design in past centuries was based on the golden section, also known as the golden ratio or the golden rectangle.

According to Wikipedia, at least since the Renaissance, many 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.

The golden section is a line segment divided according to the golden ratio: The total length a + b is to the length of the longer segment a as the length of a is to the length of the shorter segment b.



In mathematics and the arts, two quantities are in the golden ratio if the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one. The golden ratio is an irrational mathematical constant, approximately 1.6180339887. (Source:

Mathematicians have studied the golden ratio because of its unique and interesting properties. The golden ratio is also used in the analysis of financial markets, in strategies such as Fibonacci retracement. The Fibonacci numbers appear in biological settings, such as branching in trees, arrangement of leaves on a stem, the fruit spouts of a pineapple, the flowering of artichoke, an uncurling fern and the arrangement of a pine cone.

If you can decipher what this all means, you can look at the human face and see the proportional regularity. Jennifer Lopez is considered the most beautiful woman in the world. Imagine? Check out the relationship of her facial proportions using the formula above.

“Without mathematics we have no art.” Pacioli 15th century mathematician. (Source: Wikipedia)

What I am trying to impress on you is what beauty means, what beauty is, what beauty does. When we surround ourselves with well-proportioned spaces, objects, fashion, and yes, even people of beauty, as defined by the golden section, we feel up-lifted.  We don’t know why, we just feel good, and we want some.

So what about this Victoriana and Steampunk? The two iconic inventions come from similar elks, the 19th century invention of the steam engine, steam power, and history.

Lamps to look like prop planes, clocks stuck into Empire State Building objects.  Gears, a symbol of Steampunk.

The image of this clock is strangely kitsch, meaning tacky, made-fun-of, typical of Steampunk. Victoriana was seriously tacky, Steampunk is seriously fun. Steampunk makes fun of the seriousness of invention. (Source: Clock from Brenda Lewis, attorney and writer, Milford, CT)


Can you find the golden section in Renoir’s The Boating Party? Hint: it happens twice. (Source: Gail Ingis’ collection of images)



Victoriana: Can you find the golden section in this Victorian chair? Hint: the “a” section is out-of-scale to “b.” Is there a golden section? (Source: 19th-Century American Furniture and Other Decorative Arts. Figure 127)



We have talked more about what Steampunk and Victoriana are not. They are not the golden section. Next week we will talk more about what Steampunk and Victoriana are. In the meantime, see if you can use the information here and above to discover beauty. Hint: use trace paper. (The illustration to the left is a woodcut from De divina proportione illustrating the golden ratio as applied to the human face. Source: Wikipedia)

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This