Indepth Arts News: |
"The Geometry of Seeing: Perspective and the Dawn of Virtual Space"
2002-04-16 until 2002-07-07
J. Paul Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA,
The Geometry of Seeing: Perspective and the Dawn of Virtual Space, an
exhibition that examines the multifaceted nature of perspective science and its
applications, will be on view at the Getty Research Institute from April 16 through July 7,
2002. Drawn primarily from the special collections of the Research Library of the Getty
Research Institute, the exhibition presents a broad range of materials including books,
prints, drawings, and paintings spanning a period of roughly four centuries of study and
experimentation in many European countries. The Geometry of Seeing relates directly to
the Getty Research Institute's 2001–2002 scholar year theme, Frames of Viewing:
Perception, Experience, Judgment.
Thomas Crow, director of the Getty Research Institute, remarked, For all the visitors who
responded so enthusiastically to Devices of Wonder, which the Research Institute
mounted at the Getty Museum last fall, this exhibition will present a wonderful opportunity
to explore similar themes in the Italian Renaissance.
Exhibition Highlights a Range of Theories and Techniques
Perspectival illusionism is usually associated with a single technique developed during the
Italian Renaissance for the construction of architectural space on a two-dimensional
surface. The Geometry of Seeing confronts this enduring misconception and explores
perspective in both its development and its many manifestations, and acquaints visitors
with an extraordinary range of perspective theories and rendering techniques used by
Leon Battista Alberti, Albrecht Dürer, Tommaso Laureti, Sebastiano Serlio, and many
others, including Elie-Honoré Montagny, a pupil of Jacques-Louis David.
Perspective is about seeing and about the representation of the objects seen—the word
itself coming from the Greek word for optics. The fundamental principles of modern
perspective science are based on Euclidean texts, where the concept of the ‘visual cone’
originated, said Roberta Panzanelli, exhibition curator and research associate, Getty
Research Institute. The appearance of perspective science in the Renaissance is tied to
the renewed interest in the natural world and the laws that regulate it and, more
specifically, to the phenomenology of vision and natural optics.
The first section of the exhibition shows landmarks in the history of perspective. The
architect and humanist Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) first introduced the idea that a
painting is the intersection of the visual cone where all the points of the object are
projected, and this concept has remained the basis for the modern science of perspective
through the centuries.
In the early years of the 15th century, the Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi
experimented with the laws of vision and the rational measuring of space, thus laying the
foundations of linear perspective. Buildings he designed in Florence—the churches of San
Lorenzo and Santo Spirito, for example—reflected these ideas structurally and defined the
rational construction of space based on principles of its optical configuration. Alberti put
Brunelleschi’s theories into writing, and his treatise On Painting is generally considered
the foundation of the science of perspective.
From an initial 15th-century systematic definition of the discipline that dealt exclusively
with one-point perspective, the 16th century brought about the development of various
theories and practices and increasingly illusionistic techniques. Innovations during this time
included two-point perspective and anamorphosis (an image constructed on an elongated
grid that distorts it and renders it unintelligible unless viewed from a specific, extremely
oblique viewpoint or reflected in a curved mirror).
In the second section of the exhibition, the magic of illusionistic creation is represented by
a gamut of the visual arts, architecture, theater stage design, and playful visual tricks such
as anamorphic images, three-dimensional perspective, and illusionistic miniature theaters
for the home.
The artists represented in this exhibition responded to the same impulses to recreate
space in a manner that most closely approximates reality that are at the origin of the
concept of ‘virtual reality’ or the simulation of three-dimensional space on the screen of
the computer monitor or television set today, reflected Panzanelli. Indeed, the depiction
of reality as we see it in video games and movies is the contemporary extension and
perfection of this investigation, which would be impossible without the construction of
space posited by perspective.