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"ars sine scientia nihil est"  --  attributed to Jean Mignot, 14th C.









Literal translation:  "art  without knowledge is  nothing

Interpretation: Practicing an "art" without proper knowledge & skill accomplishes nothing (has no value).

Jean Mignot, French architect, was active in the late 14th & early 15th Centuries. Consulted in 1399, during the first phase of constructing the Milan cathedral, he argued that the building was in danger of collapsing if completed as planned. His arguments, based on structural measurements, and technical knowledge, were rooted in his understanding that "ars sine scientia nihil est".  While the builders retained their Italian preferences they most likely followed his advice and altered aspects of their plan to assure stable vaulting.

Milan Cathedral, begun in 1386

Rationale for the dictum: "ars sine scientia nihil est".

"ars"   In medieval literature the Latin term "ars" (art) generally applied to things created and fashioned by humankind as distinguished from all else in  nature.  The practice of "art" embraced everything from making shoes and cookware to designing stained glass windows, carving statues, and making the plans for a cathedral.  By the late 14th Century the theory and practice of constructing masonry vaults had acquired a great deal of sophistication. High Gothic Cathedrals, bathed in light and roofed over with heavy masonry vaults, were subject to the laws of gravity. The theory and practice of proper buttressing and wall construction played a key role in the "art" of building Cathedrals that would not collapse.  Regional versions of good practice included refinements based on favored geometric and theological schemes. In order for the project to succeed the architect had to be well versed in both the theory and practice of masonry vaulting.

"scientia"   The Latin term  "scientia"  referred broadly to the accumulated knowledge and theory associated with a profession. A proper "scientia" was required for planning and constructing cathedral vaults with appropriate buttressing.  For Jean Mignot  this nowledge (scientia) also included his favored geometric and theological schemes.  Apparently his French perspectives did not coincide with Italian regional preferences of the time and controversies arose.  Theory and practice could not be separated in Mignot's mind. For medieval scholastics, the practice of an art (ars) without proper knowledge (scientia) would accomplish "nothing"; the two were inseparable and one without the other would be nihil . . .nothing. Thus, the practice of "art without knowledge is nothing", "ars sine scientia nihil est".

See: "Ars Sine Scientia Nihil Est" Gothic Theory of Architecture at the Cathedral of Milan, James S. Ackerman, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Jun., 1949), pp. 84-111.  doi:10.2307/3047224

RV 2005

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