The Rose Windows of Gothic Cathedrals: Art, Symmetry and Beyond

Gothic Rose window of the Church of Saint Pablo in Valladolid, Spain

 The meeting of the International Year of Crystallography in Montreal (IUCr2014 23rd Congress), Aug. 5-12, 2014 was an excellent opportunity to meet with friends and fellow crystallographers from all over the world. It was also an unique opportunity to be exposed to the latest developments of crystallography and crystal science in the broadest sense of the world. There were over on hundred microsymposia, plenary lectures and other technical sessions, plus exhibits and workshops. I was also invited to give one presentation in one microsymposium entitled Symmetry and its General Manifestations in Science and Art’ (MS95).

I took this opportunity to present the article recently published in Acta Cryst D 
that has been featured in previous postings in this blog (see full reference below). 
I did enjoy the opportunity to broadcast the message of this essay to a wider audience of 
crystallographers interested in the connection between symmetry/crystallography and art. 
I found it really surprising that exploring this clear manifestation of symmetry in Art had not 
occurred to anyone before, except to H. Weyl in his classic book Symmetry (1952), quoted below. 


 Here is a copy of the abstract of the presentation. More details can be found in earlier postings in the blog.

 ====== Abstract
The magnificent rose windows of the Gothic cathedrals have been the object of wonder
and fascination to architects, artists and human beings alike, since they were used 
to emphasize the splendor of Gothic architecture, its lightness of forms and luminosity of interiors. 
There is considerable amount of literature on the theme including studies on the stone tracery and 
the stained glass and a website created by a prominent author in the field (, Cowen, 2005)
is an excellent resource. A brief reference in the classic book Symmetry by H. Weyl (Weyl, 1952) suggested that 
rose windows were indeed excellent examples of planar point group symmetry. However, a rigorous 
and systematic study of this particular facet of these masterpieces has never been done.

Preliminary results of the frequency of different symmetrical arrangements for more than five hundred windows have been recently published (Abad-Zapatero, 2014) and will be presented. In addition, detailed analysis of certain examples of rose windows and iconic macromolecular structures suggest that various symmetrical figures and entities that are part of our world can have symbolic meaning. They can be described by the rigorous framework of group theory in mathematics but they have also been used through history to convey different thoughts, insights and perceptions of the artists (and scientists) as designers and executors of the cosmological view of the times.  A project aimed at extending these studies in the future will be presented.

Abad-Zapatero, C. (2014). Acta Cryst. D70, 907-911.

Cowen, P. (2005). The Rose Window: Splendor and Symbol . Thames and Hudson, New York.

 Weyl, H. (1952). Symmetry. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
 This abstract originally published in Acta Cryst. (2014) A70, C142A.
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About Cele Abad-Zapatero

Biophysicist, Protein Crystallographer, Drug Designer and Science Writer. Licenciado Degree, University of Valladolid, Spain, 1969. Physics, Mathematics. Graduate work, University of Salamanca, 1969-1972. Biological Sciences. Fullbright Scholarship for Graduate studies in the USA (1972). Ph. D. University of Texas at Austin, 1978. Biophysics Postdoc with M.G.Rossmann, Purdue University, 1979-1985. Group Leader-Associate Research Fellow, Abbott Laboratories-Retired 2008. Adjunct Professor to the Graduate Faculty, University of Illinois at Chicago. current
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