Have you ever noticed how most of the really great buildings are curved? I mean, domed and pillared and vaulted and all that? Take a look at a few:
It seems we like ‘roundness.’ Why is that, I wonder?
Now, I know what you’re thinking: as loyal Freudians, you’re thinking “that’s because we’re evolved to be attracted to the opposite sex, which has rounded parts.”
Well, maybe. Though, that raises the question of why the opposite sex should have evolved those rounded parts. I mean, from an evolutionary point of view, wouldn’t there have to be some advantage to the parts being rounded for them to have evolved that way and hence for mankind to develop his love of all things circular?
Besides which, I don’t think anyone has ever been aroused by the Taj Mahal or St. Basil’s Cathedral. No one, unless they’ve been carefully taught, looks at the dome of Hagia Sophia and thinks “breasts!” They think “Oh, how magnificent!” Or “how beautiful!” And, if I may trust my own experience, the pleasure of looking at a grand building, however rounded, is a very different pleasure than that of looking at a woman’s chest. The very rhythm and tempo of the delight is different; as different as listening to Vivaldi is from listening to Brad Paisely. I like them both, but in very different ways.
No, the pleasure I find closest to that of admiring a great building is admiring a great landscape; a mountain, or a forest, or a grassy plain with rolling hills. The desert, where the sky seems ten times as big as usual and stretches in a vast dome overhead. Or the sea, with its endless horizon curving away at the edge of eyesight.
Nature is shot through with roundness. The very idea of a right-angle is essentially man-made: you almost never see one in the natural world.
Our love of roundness in architecture, therefore, is based on our love of nature; of the outdoors, the land, the waters, the whole show. The great vaulted roofs of cathedrals are an imitation of the vault of the sky; domes are our copy of rolling hills and tall mountains; pillars are our version of trees and forests; archways of cave-mouths or interlocked branches. All these are the memories of the home and playground and battlefield of our race’s childhood, which we still love to revisit and which have left their impressions on our hearts even all these millennia later.
Or, to put it another way, man recognizes the superiority of God’s handiwork to his own. God works in circles. The very earth, moon, sun, and stars are spherical and beautiful. Nature, as I already pointed out, is an endless series of curves, with only minimal lines. Men of sensibility, such as Bernini, Wren, Michelangelo, and so on recognize the Master’s hand and seek to imitate it, as beginning art students try to copy the style of great painters. All man’s art is an imitation of God’s, or at least of the desecrated, corrupted version we have at present. So, of course, the imitation that is closest to the Master’s – the curved dome of St. Peter’s, the pillared, vaulted chamber of Notre Dame, or the rounded façade of the White House – appeals to us the most. Curves, you might say, are 'the master touch.'
Vivat Christus Rex!