Documents relating to the early 19th century architect Ithiel Town.
A diagram for 'Brick Laying' signed by Town (collection of the MET).
The plans for Town's New Haven villa (A.J. Davis). Proportions and number sequences in the design may have philosophical implications. The only measurements that Town discloses in an interview with the Hartford poet Lydia Sigourney are for the central library room on the second floor: 45' long, 23' wide and 22' high. As a coincidence, the brickwork at 211 Pearl St. is 45 bricks high, with 23 bricks making up the triangle rows and 22 bricks remaining.
The villa plan may also express a unity of opposites as the wings of the structure are one half the size fo the center library space.
Another expression of the Trinity in geometric form in the portrait of Ithiel Town.
A geometric exercise in the portrait of Ithiel Town that appears, within the context of the portrait, to represent the idea of God as Trinity.
This diagram and similar exercises from Towns mathematical notebooks appear connected to the idea of interpenetrating triangles at 211 Pearl Street.
This portrait by Frederick R. Spencer was gifted by Town's daughter Etha to Yale University, who then sold it to Center Church (New Haven,CT) in the 1940's. The portrait provides a more in depth study of Town than the his early portrait (now in the collection of the National Academy of Design). The geometric exercises in the portrait and the geometry at Pearl St. both suggest Classical ideals, Christianity and more speculatively, Philosophical Alchemy.
Town accumulated the largest private library in the United States, ‘…11,000 volumes – supplemented by thousands of loose engravings, Medieval manuscripts, incunabula, objets d’art, and 170 pictures.’, a collection that he made available to the public, in hopes of nurturing an independent American art and architecture. In an interview with the Hartford poet, Lydia Sigourney, he professes, ‘…I have a great attachment to curious and uncommon books’: an admission that appears to refer to numerous esoteric titles in the auction pamphlets of his library.
Town also traveled to Europe for an extended stay in 1829, greatly expanding his collection during the trip. Works by the English Platonist Thomas Taylor were circulating in his library. A brief sample of the architects other ‘curious and uncommon’ titles include:
524. Barrett, Francis, Magus or Celestial Intelligencer, system of Occult Philosophy, Natural Magic, Alchemy, Talismanic Magic, Magnetism, & c., with lives of the most eminent Magi, portrait and 21 Plates. 4to, Lon. 1801, a very curious work.
587. Tracts, Philosopher’s Stone exposed to public sight, & c. Alexiacus or Spirit of Salt, and Subterranean Treasure, & c. 4to. Cf. Lon. 1664, & c.
962. The Golden Fleece, or relics and monuments of the kings and sages of the Egyptians, Chaldaeans, Arabians, and Assyrians. Containing The Mirror of Alchymy, The Philosopher’s Stone, & c. German, with curious cuts, some of which are colored, 4to Oak boards, Hamburg 1708. Sacred Harmony. Half roan.
This geometry exercise was at the center of the Town portrait. along with five other exercises. The diagram is colored (red, black and white) and accompanied by a series of proportions and ratios (but no letters are marked on the diagram to indicate their corresponding placement).
The arrangement closely mirrors that of the Pearl St. installation: Two proportional triangles merging into a center scalene triange, with the suggestion of circular motion and transformation contained in both works. Each suggests a very clear Union of Opposites with unity expressed as Trinity.
The philosophical implications may suggest Euclidian geometry, Christianity and potentially philosophical Alchemy. This reading is drawn from other elements of the composition which include an open Psalm book with Christ rising (and the accompanying work 'Golde...'), a commemorative coin displaying St. George slaying a dragon along with Classical references.
Town’s mathematical manuscripts include numerous exercises that mirror the ideas of the Pearl Street geometry; interacting triangles as well as spiraling gestures that appear to be expressions of patterned exponential growth. These elegant spirals also take off from Town's personal signature, like an artistic monogram, and could reasonably be a version of the spiral movement suggested in the brickwork installation.
The Mathematical Exercises of Ithiel Town (1823-1840). Collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale U., New Haven, CT.
Running numbers of no apparent logical sequence fill part of the mathematical exercises. One scholar suggested that Town was looking for patterns. (Bienecke Library, New Haven, CT)
From 'The Mathematical Exercises of Ithiel Town' (Bienecke Library, New Haven, CT)
This image was chosen by Ithiel Town for a commemorative coin that was produced for the 200th anniversary of the founding of New Haven, CT. The medallian is propped up on a table beside Town in his 1839 portrait. The image features St. George (patron saint of England) slaying the dragon (often a symbol of the devil or our base instincts), and appears to be an exact replica of an English coin of the early 19th century. Although the image of a dragon being slayed is also associated with philosophical Alchemy, other Christian images in the portrait and the connection with the English coin argue for a Christian reference, though both are possible.
It's also difficult to understand why Town chose a replica of an English coin for the commemoration of an American town.