• Perspective



Kim H. Veltman

Review: Michael Kubovy, The Psychology of Perspective and Renissance Art.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
In: Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Cambridge, Vol. 24, (1988), pp. 79-80.

Professor Kubovy is a psychologist concerned with the phenomenon of perspective during the Renaissance. Following an introductory chapter on the metaphor of the eye during the fifteenth century, he outlines the elements of perspective, referring to camera obscuras and distance points. He argues (p.38): "that Alberti and not Brunelleschi invented perspective as a communicable set of practical procedures that can be used by artists." Nonetheless, he examines the effectiveness of Brunelleschi's perspectival peepshow, giving two reasons why it produced (p.49): "a compelling experience of depth."

Professor Kubovy claims that perspectival pictures, even if they be not seen under the controlled conditions of a peepshow, have a surprising "robustness", that is, they maintain their spatial effects even when seen from positions other than the central vanishing point. Noting that perspectival pictures are illusionistic by nature, he next offers an insightful classification of trompe l'oeil pictures, exploring also the "underpinnings" of these illusionistic effects caused by the "robustness" of perspective, and considers the "bounds" of perspective: extreme conditions under which marginal distortions play havoc with perspective. Awareness of these conditions does not, however, lead him to reject perspective as a mere convention. Indeed, he challenges such relativistic views as championed by Nelson Goodman and rightly notes (p.122) -- as has the present author on an earlier occasion (1980) -- that Goodman's examples (1976, pp.15-16), betray his non-comprehension of even the basic laws of linear perspective. In chapter eight Professor Kubovy returns to the peephole demonstrations, offering two reasons why Brunelleschi abandoned them (p.128): “one is the gimmicky effect of a peepshow which transforms it into mere entertainment, the other is the robustness of perspective which has as its consequence the potential for the creation of extraordinarily powerful psychological effects.”

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