Week 2_ Perspective Discovery or Invention? By Piero Vallarino Gancia

             On a shinny afternoon in the early 15th century (circa 1420) one of the most important events in the history of visual arts took place. To understand the magnitude of this happening it is necessary to visualize it.Perspective

No perspective

           Both of these paintings come from the same region of Italy, however about 50 years separates one from the other. The drastic paradigm shift conveyed by these images is a direct consequence of the event. 

            In order to show the effect of drawing in perspective, Filippo Brunelleschi, an Italian artist and architect, painted the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence on a plate of polished silver from about 1.8m inside the main door of Santa Maria Del Fiore. Brunelleschi made a perfect illustration of his surroundings from his location as clinical precision was necessary if he was to prove his point.

            It was then that Brunelleschi had his breakthrough idea, affixing a peephole through the painted panel exactly where the vanishing point would be. The discovery of the concept of a vanishing point is what created perspective in painting.

            This concept arises from many parallel lines appearing to converge even though this is mathematically impossible. Our eyes however, cannot perceive the distance separating all parallel lines after a given point, this point is the vanishing point.

            The concept is beautiful in itself, but its proof is even more remarkable. After the completion of the panel with the peephole, he returned to the place where he painted the view. He illustrated the accuracy of the perspective of his drawing by holding the painted panel facing away at the height of his eye, in order for him to be able to see through the hole. With his other hand at about arms length, he held a mirror in front of and facing the painting in order for him to be looking directly into the mirror at the reflection of the painting.

           The proof

            The view through the hole in the mirror revealed the painting drawn in perfect perspective, in the spot where the subject of the painting would be observed. The view was so realistic that the viewer was incapable of distinguishing between the painted scene and the actual building’s form and proportion. The silver plate mirrored the actual sky, with flying birds and drifting clouds.

            It is interesting that Brunelleschi was not satisfied with only painting in perspective; he wanted his paintings and art to adopt as realistic a form as possible. In those times, even a painting with an imperfect perspective — but with perspective nonetheless — was already ground breaking and innovatory. After this event perspective was elevated to an issue of fundamental importance in future works of art. Therefore, knowledge of mathematics would become necessary for art, since rigorous mathematical rules would have to be followed in order to be able to paint huge frescoes such as the Sistine Chapel, or even small drawings, such as the Vitruvian man.

            Following this brief history of the invention, or perhaps discovery of perspective in painting it is possible to say that arts and sciences are mutually dependent. Without the other, each one is polarized and cannot serve for any bigger purpose. Without science and mathematics, perspective would not have been possible, but without art, the necessity to apply mathematics to such things would not have come. Hence, it is crucial for the development of both fields that they work hand in hand, for they support each other and serve as a reason to advance, pioneer and innovate. 

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