• Perspective



Kim H. Veltman

Perspective From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century

Perspective has been described (Edgerton 1975) as the most important discovery of the West. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it involved many of the key individuals in Renaissance art and architecture, notably Brunelleschi, Alberti, and Piero della Francesca. The projection methods of perspective were linked with astronomy (astrolabes and sundials), cartography, stonecutting, and surveying. Leonardo da Vinci linked perspective with physics and made it one of the cornerstones in his new approach to science through his pyramidal law, a principle that also inspired the first universal analogue reckoning instruments: the sector and proportional compass. Since the seventeenth century, the development of perspective has entailed some of the leading mathematicians: Desargues, Pascal, Euler, Monge, Poncelet. In its metaphorical sense, perspective has been explored by philosophers such as Leibniz and Nietzsche; played a fundamental role in the work of Schutz, one of the founding fathers of modern sociology, and has affected profoundly most major disciplines, including anthropology, ethnography, literature, psychology and even theology.

This course reconsiders the history of perspective. It examines optical adjustments methods among the Egyptians and the Greeks; debates concerning ancient perspective, mediaeval contributions and focusses on the period 1300-1600. Developments in Italy, Burgundy, Germany and France are explored. A survey is made of major themes: instruments, shadow projection, regular and semiregular solids, intarsia, interiors, quadratura, trompe l'oeil, anamorphosis, stage scenery, columns, ideal architecture, ruins and gardens. Links with mathematical themes such as planisphere projection, conic sections, sundials, and stonecutting are addressed. Developments from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century are considered. The significance of perspective is assessed in terms of science, art, the environment and the imagination, in order to draw attention to a paradox: How was it that a method of representation that imposed scientific rules became a new key to artistic freedom and creativity?

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