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Lecture 39

EURO ST 10 Lecture Notes - Lecture 39: Ibn Al-Haytham, Vanishing Point

European Studies
Course Code
John Smith

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Professor Smith
Europe Studies 10
Course Code: 24000
4 units
2018 Fall Quarter
Course Notes
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 a
branch 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 (1471-1528), Germany’s most famous
Renaissance artist, traveled to Italy to learn perspective
He came back to Germany and wrote his own manual in German on perspective
and created his own images to illustrate how to do linear perspective in art
Does Durer Recognize the Ambivalence
His artist is drawing a naked woman, but he never really sees her directly
If he’s capturing her naturally”, but nature is outside the window
And he can’t really see it
And the artist might have an ideal position, from which the gridwork radiates or
which organizes the focus, but the artist seems to be fixed rigidly, by but also
limitation of the modern subject” will be picked up in the ensuing centuries
A couple of Points before concluding:
At the opening of Chapter 3, edgerton points to interesting sources that influenced
the development of linear perspective in renaissance art
Edgerton stresses that the real source of the geometry was an arabic
commentary by abu ali al-hasan ibn al-haytham, known simply as alhacen
or al hasan in the west
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