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Speculations on the Origins of Linear Perspective

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Richard Talbot


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Richard Talbot demonstrates an approach and method for constructing perspectival space that may account for many of the distinguishing spatial and compositional features of key Renaissance paintings. The aim of the paper is also to show that this approach would not necessarily require, as a prerequisite, any understanding of the geometric basis and definitions of linear perspective as established by Alberti. The author discusses paintings in which the spatial/geometric structure has often defied conventional reconstruction when the strict logic of linear perspective is applied.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Talbot R

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nexus Network Journal

Year: 2003

Volume: 5

Issue: 1

Pages: 64-98

Print publication date: 01/04/2003

ISSN (print): 1522-4600

ISSN (electronic): 1522-4600

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s00004-002-0005-5

Notes: This paper, which I was invited to write, stems from issues arising within my drawing practice - issues that lead me to question the orthodox thinking on the nature, purpose and history of linear perspective. The paper ultimately disputes the apparently commonsense notion of perspective being a tool for depicting three-dimensions and suggests that there has been a fundamental misunderstanding by historians and cultural commentators – and artists, about the purpose and consequently the origins of perspective. It discusses early certain renaissance paintings - those held by historians to embody the new science of perspective, but in which the spatial/geometric structures are, in fact, ambiguous and consequently defy rational reconstruction. I demonstrate a method by which spatial structures can be generated without recourse to the conventional methods of linear perspective, such as projection, and show that the distinguishing spatial and compositional features of these key Renaissance paintings are a consequence of this alternative approach. I demonstrate that the principles of this approach can be found in the geometry of the patterned floors that these artists were depicting, and how it relates to the discovery of perspective's principles and to Brunelleschi’s modular architecture. It is an approach supported by current thinking about perception and depiction in the neurosciences, such as that of Varela, and was further explored in ‘Ambiguity and the development of Linear Perspective’ published in the peer reviewed journal ‘Tracey: Contemporary Drawing Research’. The paper is acknowledged by the International Centre for the Study of Perspective at Urbino University as a research resource and is published on-line and in print in the Nexus Journal, a peer-reviewed journal for studies in the application of mathematical principles to architectural design. The edition is dedicated to Perspective and Optics, with contributions from scholars in Australia, Mexico, USA, Italy, Portugal and Hungary.


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