|Cosmatesque floor pattern|
Sir Thomas Browne (above), a 17th century luminary, wrote a lengthy and formidable essay on the Quincunx (The Garden of Cyrus also entitled The Quincunciall, Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, naturally, artificially, mystically considered, 1658). In it he quotes Quintilian, a 1st century Roman rhetorician who uses the term in his Institutio Oratoria, first published c.95 AD: “Quid [illo] quincunce speciosius, qui, in quamcumque partem spectaveris, rectus est?" which translates roughly, "What is more beautiful than the quincunx, that, from whatever direction you regard it, presents straight lines?" In context, Quintilian is discussing beauty and utility and writes, “Shall not beauty, then, it may be asked, be regarded in the planting of fruit trees? Undoubtedly; I should arrange my trees in a certain order, and observe regular intervals between them.” He recognizes that planting trees at regular intervals is also advantageous to their growth and health “as each of them then attracts an equal portion of the juices of the soil...”.
|The quincuncial arrangement of flower petals in bud, as seen in the rose family. Attrib|
|A Quincunx Orchard. Attrib.|
|DaVinci's sketch illustrating quincunx in branch arrangement. Attrib|
Students of art and architecture during the Italian Renaissance read them all, and applied their theories to their creations. Through these early scholars and down through history, the quincunx is still in use in garden design today. When you see the rows of an orchard planted with military precision, or a mass of bedding plants neatly laid out waiting to be installed, you are most likely looking at a quincunx.