• Perspective

Perspective

02.12.1977

Kim H. Veltman

Review:

S. Edgerton Jr., The Renaissance Rediscovery of Linear Perspective, (New York, 1975), The Art Bulletin, New York, Vol. 59, No. 2, (July 1977), pp. 281-282.

SAMUEL Y. EDGERTON, IR., The Renaissance Rediscovery of Linear Perspective, New York, Basic Books, 1975. Pp. 206; some ills. $15

Edgerton is concerned with more than the rediscovery of linear perspective. He wishes to account for a dramatic shift in topographical realism that occurred around the turn of the 15th century and assumes that this shift was "based on the assumption that visual space is ordered a priori by an abstract uniform system of linear coordinates" (p. 7). Hence he is faced with answering (p. 32): "How did people in early fifteenth century Florence 'see'. . . . What was the peculiar `mental set' at that time which made certain citizens of Florence as amenable to pictures constructed according to the cold logic of optical geometry?"

To resolve these questions Edgerton turns to the theological context in Florence prior to considering briefly the significance of the "abacco" tradition and Leon Battista Alberti's interests. He then goes back to provide a brief survey of "the fathers of optics"-Alhazen, Grosseteste, and Witelo-by way of introduction to Alberti's Optics. All this serves as the background for the hero of the book, Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli whose interests in Ptolemaic cartography Edgerton sees both as the inspiration behind Brunelleschi's first method of linear perspective and as indirectly responsible-via Paolo's correspondence with Columbus-for the discovery of America. The book ends with a discussion of perspective as a cultural paradigm-its validity as a "symbolic form." The lucid style of the book makes it extremely readable but at the expense of glossing over a number of problems. Among these we shall consider seven.


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