How Linear Perspective Studies Helped Ignite The Renaissance

   Leonardo and the other Masters of the Renaissance owe their success to science and the historians that kept the knowledge of the Classical Tradition safe from fire. Leon Battista Alberti, a true Renaissance Man, wrote extenisively on Linear Perspective and Optics. This helped Artists like Davinci, Raphael and Michaelangelo master perspective. Greek Mathematics and Sculpture, Flemish Art and Muslim Scientists effected the birth of the Renaissance. Before this time artists struggled making flat paintings, mostly icons. Though the beauty of Medieval Art remains unquestioned the Renaissance helped set the stage for building new styles up to Modern Art.

The Discovery of documents kept safe for nearly a thousand years by Arab Scientists and with the help of Alhazen, a Muslim Mathematician and Philosopher, the renaissance was given a chance to flourish. Alhazen, circa 1041 study of Optics; once translated to Italian and other languages, was used by Alberti and other Architects who then trained many artists on the subject. The Renaissance Artists dream was to bring back the understanding of Anatomy and perspective. To bring back the Greek mathematical prowess and beauty. With new discoveries constantly pushing the envelope, mans abilities increased at an astronomical rate. Sure their were mistakes along the way, but the Renaissance artists were still learning. To say the Renaissance artists knew everything would be a gross misstatement. An example of this is Mantegna’s “The Lamentation over the Dead Christ”. Some Teachers still think the perspective is correct. The realization is that, the painting though still beautiful and close in perspective, is off. First mistake is that the feet are to small. Second is the body is not long enough. And third and final mistake is the body and head are to big. They did not have cameras back then so it was a nice estimate but completely wrong. If the artist or cameraman was in that exact position over the body, the body would be longer. If the artist was in line with the body, the feet would be enormous. It seems that Mantegna was trying to squeeze the body in the small canvas, and to not take away from Christ’s face by making the feet small. However this was an example of artists in the Renaissance still learning perspective.

Jan Van Eyk, one of the leading Renaissance artists, pushed the bar with his detailed mirror in the painting “Arnolfini Portait" circa 1434. Van Eyk was not under the influence of the Medici but rather the genesis of the phenomenon in Flemish Art. The Early Netherlandish Artists were re-working perspective into their art earlier and independently from that of the Italian Artists, but which in-turn influenced them. In fact, the painting techniques and knowledge of spacial dimension of the early-Netherlandish artists was brought to Italy by 1475. It took nearly 50 years for artists in Italy to become fully aware of the advancements in linear perspective from the north. Giotto di Bondone was playing with perspective in his icons but they are vastly subordinate to later works. However hi works did show a push towards a greater understanding that would be accomplished by the north.

The detail and accuracy in the Van Eyk's mirror was a major leap forward in the Renaissance. Van Eyk predates Davinci, as a result scholars have been begun more focus on Netherlands Artists and their contributions and seeding of the Renaissance and perspective. Petrus Christus carried the flame after Jan Van Eyk ‘s death. Improving the realism of skin tone and shadow. Though it has been challenging for Historians to piece together Christus’s life and work. The Italian Renaissance brought together the culmination of humanism from all of Europe to one city, Florence.

By the time we reach Romanticism we see the artists pretty much comfortable with perspective. Drawing and painting full battle scenes with ease the Romantic Artists were just letting the art flow out like a well four hundred years in the making.

The Carolingian Renaissance did not have enough data collected yet to make an impact but their effort has not been ignored. Finally in the Early Italian Renaissance we started to see the first break-throughs partly because of funding from the Medici. However it was mainly because artists everywhere flocked to Florence to learn the new techniques of mathematics from the Muslim Theoreticians and Italian Architects, and then to apply them in various fine art mediums.

By the time Pablo Picasso and Kandinsky started painting, theories of perspective were old hat. They were tired of regurgitating realism and perspective studies. They instead branched off in their own directions. Kandinsky with his purely abstract color focused art and Pablo with his Cubist idealogies.

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by Jim Kapsalis

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