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UCI EUROST 10 - Brunelleschi

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Professor Smith European Studies Department Europe Studies 10 European History Course Code: 24000 ● Brunelleschi ○ Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) was a Florentine architect and engineer ○ He played a crucial role in the development of linear perspective ○ He was a contemporary of Alberti, the famous Florentine art theorist, architect, and painter ● Brunelleschi’s perspective ○ Brunelleschi was searching for a way to “realistically” depict buildings as he saw them in the city ○ He stood in a fixed spot outside of the Florence baptistery and sketched many drafts of the building ○ He discovered that if he chose a single, fixed point in the distance, the parallel lines seemed to coverage at that point (the vanishing point) allowing him to gauge properly how long to make each of the lines to delineate the features and structure of the building ● Brunelleschi’s mirror experiment ○ Brunelleschi put his new-found perspective to the test in a series of painted experiments ○ Brunelleschi would paint the baptistery on a canvas in perspective ○ He would then cut out a hole in the canvas where the vanishing point is ○ A viewer would then look through the hole on the backside of the canvas ○ As he would look through the hole, he would find a mirror placed in front of the canvas so that he would see in the mirror the perspectival construction of the baptistery ○ The individual is given a mastery over space itself ○ But note, the individual’s position and gaze is locked into place ● Edgerton on Brunelleschi ○ “These two lost panels, so far studied by only a few specialized scholars and hardly attracting the interest of even the most passionate lovers or italian painting, were surely the most influential artworks introduced during the entire European renaissance” ○ Why this bold claim? ○ Because brunelleschi’s introduction of a mathematically and scientifically generated linear perspective changed the way the western world represented and even “saw” reality ○ Indeed, it might even have changed “reality” itself ○ More on that bold claim in a couple of lectures when we turn to galileo and science ● Alberti ○ Leon Battista Alberti was an italian humanist artist and theorist○ A “renaissance man” ○ Shortly after brunelleschi runs his mirror experiments, Alberti writes On Painting, a treatise for painters detailing how to create perspectival drawings ○ Alberti continuously stresses that painting is to be learned from nature as a “window” into God’s creation ● Alberti’s General Method ○ In Chapter 12 Edgerton summarizes how one can “build up” a painting in linear perspective, starting with a vanishing point, then creating a grid with orthogonals radiating out from it and parallel lines intersecting them ■ They indicate the differing sizes of objects in the painting that will give us the sense of depth of space ● What does this method do to space? ○ The technique of linear perspective imposes or overlays a grid onto reality/nature ○ One could say it squeezes or forces nature into an abstract geometrical or mathematical scheme in order to present nature (supposedly) as it “really is” ○ We can see the ambivalent nature of this approach to representing and seeing nature in the way Alberti simplifies the technique by introducing the “window” ■ This is part of its significance as a “symbolic form” ● It organizes the way we think of the world ● Alberti’s window metaphor ○ What do you observe happening in this image? ○ What is the artist attempting to do? ○ What tools has he set up to help him? ○ How would this systematize vision? ○ What is the importance of the frame and the window? ○ How do they help recreate the “truth” of nature? ● Edgerton on the metaphors: ○ The importance of the window metaphor “in essence is that it subtly shifted the object of perspective painting away from “mirroring” nature as if it were a mere reflection of god’s true brilliance in heaven, to seeing nature instead as if through an open window, not as a divine mystery revealed by geometry, but as a worldly perfection framed by geometry” ○ How does this begin a major shift in the (western) view of nature? ○ How does this begin a major shift in the (western) view of nature? ○ Humans don’t just recreate (mirror) god’s perfection but now strive toward their own “perfect” (= mathematical) understanding of nature ○ Again, major implications for science -> galileo some 200 years later uses the science of vision to develop his telescope ● Perspective: turning art into science ○ In order to prove that art could teach about nature, art theorists had to come up with a way to legitimate painting as a “science” ○ How might perspective work as the science of art? ● Turning art into science ○ Renaissance art theorists “made an association between painting and mathematics, basing their claims on the ‘science’ of perspective, which they regarded as abranch of mathematics. Considered as such, painting became a form of knowledge, instructing man about the natural world” - Jonathan Brown, On the Meaning of Las Meninas ○ “Perspective makes a particular claim to truth. A geometrical method designed to render pictorial space, it promises a truthful - even scientific - representation of reality. It is a ‘seeing through’ as if through a window, to invoke Leon Battista Alberti’s famous metaphor” - Hanneke Grootenboer, The Rhetoric of Perspective ● Turning art into “science” - not just a craft but a “true representation” ○ If one follows the rules of linear perspective in drawing, one is taking part in the rules that govern vision ■ You are theoretically re-creating vision ○ The canvas becomes a window through which one can look “into” as though one were actually seeing the scene in real life ○ You can imagine how this ability might this be exciting to artists and scientists ○ Humans now have new (godlike) powers to create and master space ● And yet, there are some ambivalences ○ Is Alberti presenting us with a perfect “window” into nature ○ Or is he interpreting an abstract grid between us and nature ○ Artists in the early modern period were already aware of the ambivalence ● Durer’s Manual on Perspective ○ About 100 years later, Albrecht Durer


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