Week 13a: Alberti’s Architecture and Perspectival Analysis

Please post both some comments on the readings and your painting analysis.

Suggestions: Alberti uses the word “art” quite a lot.  What does it mean?  He also notes that some arts are necessary, some useful, and some are just cool to know,.. but he suggests that which are which is too obvious to mention.  Which arts belong to which category?  etc…


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8 thoughts on “Week 13a: Alberti’s Architecture and Perspectival Analysis

  1. I really enjoyed reading Alberti’s “On the Art of the Building” and thought his valorization of architecture as something that gives not only comfort but the greatest pleasure quite beautiful. I found it interesting that he points to architecture as giving the republic dignity and honor, yet also used it as an imitation of nature: that which removes or separates people from nature is the very thing that is composed of things that imitate, and in a way embody, nature. His distinction between the carpenter and the architect was also very pointed, and I found that his explanation of lineaments supported his praise of the architect as having reason and method in order to perceive the abstract angles and lines.

    Alberti’s “On Painting” was a bit confusing, and I had a hard time picturing the things he was describing, like the pyramid. Although the diagrams show how the eye can perceive something, I was a bit lost when Alberti started describing how visual rays are “laden and imbued with lights and colours”–I’m not sure if it’s only because I haven’t thought this deeply about what I see on a day-to-day according to rays.

  2. Alberti’s On Painting got a little bit hard to follow because he was so detailed and went very in depth into all these different mathematical aspects of painting. Its actually really amazing to think that some painters were aware of all of these things while creating their art. The painting that I chose to do my assignment on was ‘St. Peter Healing a Cripple, and the Raising of Tabitha” by Tommaso Masolino c. 1427, which is a painting part of a larger mural of the Brancacci Chapel. Linear perspective is evident in the painting however I did not find any particular ratios – but that might just be because I wasn’t measuring in the right places.. But what is special about this painting is that Masolino painted it using a vanishing point. I related this to the Alberti On Painting when he discussed the formation of pyramids and triangles. How all the rays ultimately conjoin at one center – when drawing out the lines on the painting from the vanishing point it appears to do the same and create a pyramidal shape from rays on either side of the dividing line of the painting (the vanishing point lies a little bit to the left of the dividing line). In the “Art of Building’ when Alberti discusses the beginnings of architecture and how men decide to ‘use their space,’ which i thought was conceptually very fascinating and something I honestly never thought about; I related back to the Masolino painting. Although this is a little stretched in terms of relating back to The Art of Building I noticed that the dividing line in the Masolino painting was very distinct and created two different spaces in his one painting allowing to tell two different stories in one picture and to do so clearly.

  3. In Alberti’s “On Painting” he discusses the visual pyramid and how painters reconcile this concept with their paintings. He writes, “a painting will be the intersection of a visual pyramid at a given distance, with a fixed center and certain position of lights, represented by art with lines and colors.” He goes on to discuss the importance of comparison when it comes to perspective, and integrates the idea that objects are only small or big in relation to others. Though this is an obvious concept, Alberti articulates it well, and reminds the reader the importance of comparison in perspective. For my painting I chose Jan van Eyck’s 1434 Arnolfini Portrait. The painting is famous for its use of perspective and for the reflective mirror that shows the backs of the two figures in the painting. Out the window there is a visible natural landscape. The mirror is the center of the image and seems to be where the angles stem from that create the perspective of the image. Though it is not in the exact center, it is what draws the eye. There is a triangular theme between the mirror and husband and wife, though I did not find any ratios. The mirror is curved in a way that reminded me of the globe we were looking through the other day in class. There is the same optical illusion, “fish-eye” effect in the mirror as there was when we tried to use the globe as a magnifying glass. This is van Eyck playing with the idea of perspective, and reminded me of Alberti’s comparison concept. The two views of the room both have perspective but they are very different.

  4. Yeah I agree that Alberti’s “On Painting” was pretty technical and hard to follow. I found the reading “On The Art of The Building” to be interesting. I like how he compared architecture to natural things. It kind of made me think of how we often see faces in things we build. A traditional house kind of looks like a face with the windows as eyes and the door as the nose or a mouth.
    The painting I chose was The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius by Carlo Crivelli. One part of the painting which I find interesting and relevant is the light of god. Like in other renaissance paintings that depict the divine, linear perspective breaks down with light of god. It is the only part of the painting that does not abide to the perspective of the painting. The line is an impossible line in the real world. Also, a saint and the bishop of the town are holding a model structure of the town. So Carlo Crivelli was definitely thinking a lot about linear perspective and architecture.

  5. I enjoyed Alberti’s discussion of comparison in ‘On Painting’. I think we rarely think about how our perception of a work of art or even an everyday object is informed by what we’ve seen before. That’s probably why some works of modern art are so jarring, because we have nothing to compare them to in our minds, and we’re forced to take these big leaps away from our comfort zones. The idea that sizes and colors in paintings appear bigger or brighter simply by virtue of contrast is an important one I think.
    I chose Van der Weyden’s “Saint Luke Drawing The Virgin” as my painting, as I thought the artist’s use of a window scene in the background of the painting would be a good way to explore perspective. When I mapped it out, I did find some pretty nice triangles, and other divisions of three which could relate to Alberti’s idea of the visual pyramid, as Amy discussed above.

  6. From the readings, Alberti’s concern with location became unavoidable, going into detail about quality of water, air, earth, surrounding land, temperature, weather, bugs, germs?, even astrology. All of these things go into deciding the locality of a desired architectural space. It was interesting that he makes clear the apparent lack of concern for physics, that he was not going to discuss it. In the other document about perspective, he again outlines how uninterested he is in the “numbers” of things by stating that there is no mathematics involved. These elements seem oddly outcasted. I would think, with so many concerns about the physical environment, there would be a need to describe those issues with physics, with math. Equally, measurements, such as angles, are described: acute angles should never be used and circles allow for the best equal divisions of space. The document describing perspective also describes angles between our line of vision and the object. I suppose he is suggesting that although there is in fact math to describe these things, it is less important to understand the math involved than it is to understand how these things effect us and can be understood.

    When I was considering the assignment for choosing a renaissance painting, I immediately thought of many pieces that could be relevant. In, as you suggested, looking at Giotto’s Chapel Arena frescos, along with some works by Duccio, I compared their use of perspective to those of the later arrests, and found it to be quite elementary and experimental. So, I moved on to a later date. In reading the guidelines for the prompt, I thought of a painting, The Battle of San Romano, by Uccello in which he tried to use perspective on the floor by placing broken bits of spears, swords, helmets, etc. on the ground in the paths of the perspectival lines. This, though, was uninspiring because it did not mimic a realistic perspective, one in which Alberti intends with his description of perspective. When I read Alberti’s De Pictura, I thought to a room in Mantua commissioned by the Gonzaga family painted by Mantegna called Camera Picta. From this room, I’ve chosen the vault, the ceiling in which Mantegna has painted a Trompe-l’oeil oculus (painted architecture made to fool the eye, using existing architectural elements of the space). The perspective is such that we, as a viewer from the floor of the room, are expected to look up and see the oculus as realistic. He uses a one-point perspective that radiates from the center of the circular painting. He places people and angles around and within the Trompe-l’oeil oculus to show off his use of foreshortening and perspective, his balance in the composition. This technique is specifically called di sotto in sù, or seen from below. Including the bird, that actually balances the pot on the opposite side of the image, there seems to be a balance of threes with the figures.

    also as a side note, it was so “coincidental” that you posted the immortal jellyfish link because I was about to send a different link containing similar information about them in an email to everyone (and also say that I wish I’d come across this when I was writing my essay because I love jellyfish).

  7. All day today I was at a workshop on the modularity of perception at the philosophy department that dovetailed nicely with both readings. Essentially, the debate centers on whether or not our perceptions are cognitively penetrated by our concepts – thoughts, beliefs, hopes, fears, etc. The poster child for anti-modularity of perception (that is, the view that perception IS cognitively penetrated) are studies dealing with body scaling and the environment, namely how we judge distances based on our own height, how tired or energized we are, if we want something at the location or want to get away from something at that location, etc. There was also, surprisingly, strong evidence for the opposite view and alternative hypotheses/interpretations of body-scaling data. Perspective obviously factored majorly into the discussions.

    In the reading, I was struck especially by color and light, two things that we not only conceptually distinguish, but that are functionally distinguished in our physiology: we have cones AND rods. This point is of particular interest to me. It seems the more we understand about vision and electromagnetoc waves, the harder it is to cash out this distinction.

    I chose an Escher drawing, which was fun for the copying part and a nightmare for the mapping part. I ended up making a map with 3 axes; I hope that’s okay.

  8. I enjoyed reading Alberti’s “On the Art of Building”. Coming from a post-Roman world, it is interesting to see the similarities between his analysis of architecture and the Roman style of building and architecture. For the Romans, buildings, towns, and streets, had a more or less set format in which most buildings, at the center of the town, were focused on the main promenade and the gathering/market place. The Roman’s made great efforts to construct towns and cities that reflected the power and the wealth of the Roman Empire. With Alberti, his reflection of architecture and spacial arrangements seems to highlight aspects such as accessibility (who do you want entering the building), locality (which can give an indication of status) and the ornamentation of the building (aestheticism/is it pretty and fancy), that would have been important points for Roman builders and architects.

    In his analysis, Alberti narrates the histories and influences of his examples to illustrate the purpose of the buildings. Why were they built, how were they built, do they fit the surroundings, or better yet, do they match the town in terms of utility, style, and dignity. These points are seemingly timeless. To look at a building and to create thoughts about it, one must take into account the history of the area and its influences, which why I believe the connection to the Roman era to be particularly important.

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