• Perspective



Kim H. Veltman

Ptolemy and the Origins of Linear Perspective

Atti del convegno internazionale di studi: la prospettiva rinascimentale, Milan 1977, ed. Marisa Dalai-Emiliani (Florence: Centro Di, 1980), pp. 403-407.

To account for the (re-) discovery of Renaissance linear perspective there exist at least five explanations: 1) a change in 'world view; 2) workshop practice; 3) architectural tradition using ground plan/elevation methods; 4) surveying and 5) cartography. The purpose of this paper is to reconsider briefly the importance of cartography and suggest the importance of a sixth context; astronomy which introduced the use of planisphere and astrolabe.

Ptolemy in his Geography discussed three projection methods. If these were significant in the Renaissance one would expect to find careful attention to the diagrams illustrating these methods. Examination of Codex Urbinas Graecus 82 --to cite one important example - reveals, however, that the diagram for methods one (fig. 1) and two (fig. 2) are not elaborately produced and that the diagram for method three is omitted entirely. To question that geography was responsible for the discovery of perspective is not to deny, however, that there existed close links between cartography and perspective in the latter fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: cf, for example, Leonardo's sketches (fig. 3); Dürer's woodcut for the 1525 edition of Ptolemy's Geography - albeit the principles here relate primarily to astronomy; Christoforo Sorte, who was active in geography as well as perspective or Egnazio Dante, editor of Vignola's Due regole della prospettiva (1583), who also produced maps of Perugia and later of all the papal states. A passage from Accolti's Lo inganno degli 'occhi (1625, p. 125) is particularly interesting for this, theme - although we must beware of post hoc ergo propter hoc arguments: whence if we wish to constitute a measure or a scale as the geographers say in order to be able to measure any and every member of the said drwaing, we shall do it in this way most easily and most expeditely, also without needing to use other instruments of quandrants with scales of heights and similar mathematical instruments.

Hence for Accolti there were obvious links between cartography and geography. How these links developed, what their connection was, in turn, with topography and surveying deserve future attention.

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