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"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, USA

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.


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