Circle and Grid. History, Science and Design

Event Slider

A curious manuscript gave rise to the fifth edition of «Power of the Word». In this conference, a panel of speakers interprets this work from various perspectives, ranging from mathematics to design.


This conference is held in the context of the exhibition Power of the Word. A Gift for the Emperor: Circles of Knowledge and puts into discussion its underlying centrepiece: the 19th-century Arabic manuscript of the Tuḥfat al-Khāqān, a stunning and enigmatic collection of encyclopaedic diagrams.

The object will be approached in a dual way: from a conceptual-historical angle and from a visual-graphic design aspect, by both academic specialists and contemporary designers and calligraphers.

The topics under discussion will be the relations between metaphysics and geometry, between esoteric and cosmological sciences, and the transfer of knowledge through Eurasian cultures, from Antiquity to modern times.



09:30 / Welcome

10:00 / Opening

Guilherme d’Oliveira Martins – Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, LisbonAntónio Filipe Pimentel – Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon

10:10 / Introduction to the Project ‘Power of the Word V. The Emperor’s Gift: Circles of Knowledge’

Jessica Hallett – Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon

10:20 / The Gulbenkian Tuḥfat al-Khāqān Manuscript: Lights and Shadows of a Mysterious Immigrant

This presentation will look at the details of the Tuḥfat al-Khāqān manuscript, showing to the audience many of the pages which are not part of the exhibition, going over some of the subtleties in the graphic layout and their relation to the texts. We will also compare pages of the Gulbenkian manuscript with those of other collections around the world, to better assess the impact of the flood damages on the curatorial work.
Inês Bénard da Costa – ERC Rutter Project – Making the Earth Global, LisbonJuan Acevedo – ERC Rutter Project – Making the Earth Global, Lisbon— Break 20 min. —

11:20 / Circular Concepts in Mathematics, Theology and Reasoning

Starting from the symbol for nothing being a small circle, and passing through the circles of the soul of man and of the universe, this presentation ends with the arrangement of arguments in circular form, so that they end where they began (except that a circle has no beginning).
Charles Burnett – Warburg Institute, University of London

12:00 / Tables of the Ecliptic and Celestial Equator in China

We have extant examples from the 8th century onward of Chinese tables showing the demarcations of the ecliptic and celestial equator. The earliest one shows the zodiac signs, which at the time had recently been introduced from India, while others are astrological in character. The changes in these tables over the centuries reveal how the Chinese understood foreign astronomical concepts through their own system.
Jeffrey Kotyk – Università di Bologna

12:40 / Debate

— Break 90 min. —

14:30 / Visualizing Spheres of Knowledge

This presentation will be a tour through a millennia of circular information design in architecture, urban planning, fine art, design, fashion, technology, religion, cartography, biology, astronomy and physics, in a visual feast for infographics enthusiasts. From Venn diagrams and early celestial charts to the trefoil biohazard symbol and Target’s corporate logo, Manuel Lima provides a history of humanity's long-lasting obsession with all things circular and a unique taxonomy of the many varieties of circle diagrams.
Manuel Lima – Interos

15:10 / Around Pigments: Crossing History and Science

Colours found in nature, such as minerals and animals, or produced synthetically, have for centuries been transformed into inks to embellish the pages of manuscripts. In this communication, we will discover the pigments that gave rise to the eight colours used to complement the lines, circles and drawings in the manuscript recently discovered at the Gulbenkian Museum.
Ana Claro – CHAM – Centre for Humanities, Lisbon

15:30 / Art as Knowledge Keeper

A guided tour of some of the artist’s works that are themselves cosmological diagrams, providing insight into the decision-making and techniques that come into play when into translating information, that may be multi-layered, into abstract visuals.
Joumana Medlej – London

16:10 / Circles of Knowledge in Fernando Pessoa's Philosophical Writings about Islam

This communication aims to address a philosophical narrative by the young Fernando Pessoa, which deals with Islamic theology and philosophy, and addresses the shape of the circle as an Islamic metaphor for knowledge, including at a theological and ontological level. Images of Fernando Pessoa's manuscripts will be shown and a possible bibliographical source for the story will be discussed, namely ‘Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde’, by Jean-Frédéric Bernard and illustrated by Bernard Picart (1723-43), a work that is actually part of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum's collection.
Fabrizio Boscaglia – Universidade Lusófona, Lisbon

16:40 / Debate

17:00 / Visit to the Museum

Collaboration. The RUTTER project has received funding from the European Research Council — ERC — under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 833438).


Cookies settings

Cookies Selection

This website uses cookies to improve your browsing experience, security, and its website performance. We may also use cookies to share information on social media and to display messages and advertisements personalised to your interests, both on our website and in others.