• Perspective

Perspective

01.12.1979

Kim H. Veltman

Military Surveying and Topography: The Practical Dimension of Renaissance Linear Perspective

Revista da Universidade de Coimbra, Coimbra, Vol. XXVII, (1979), pp. 263-279.
Reprinted as a separate booklet: Military Surveying and Topography: The Practical Dimension of Renaissance Linear Perspective, Lisboa: Junta de Investigacoes Cientificas de Ultramar (Publicacoes do Centro de Estudos de Cartografia Antiga, seccao de Coimbra, serie separatas, vol CXXIX).

1. Introduction
2. Peacetime Links Between Surveying, Topography and Perspective
3. The «Theory» of Perspective and Military Practitioners
4. Perspective Aids in Military Surveying and Topography
5. Military Surveyors and Topographers: Amateur Practitioners and Professionals
6. Painters and Topography: Art and the Military
7. Conclusion


1. Introduction

The discovery of linear perspective unexpectedly transformed the definition of «art». Hitherto artists had commonly believed that their ideal lay in copying, in imitation. But once linear perspective offered them a means of copying objectively it gradually became obvious that their ideal lay elsewhere. A category was now needed for a new realm of art that aimed at the subjective, the new, at creativity itself. In clarifying what art was not, linear perspective required a second new category for representation that involved copying only, a category we now term «technical drawing». Although there exist a host of specialized studies on the history of drawing techniques and the history of technical drawing instruments, the story of the general context in which technical drawing emerged remains largely untold. An obvious reason is that this field lies uncomfortably between the realms of art history, the history of cartography, science and technology.

It was at a time when I first found myself lost in this curious no man's land between art and science that I first met Professor Cortesão. He, I was convinced, would put me straight and clarify anew where lay the boundaries between science and art. To my surprise he did nothing of the sort. Instead he encouraged me to continue my searchings. It is, therefore, fitting that this first report of a journey between disciplines should be dedicated to his memory. The paper which follows concentrates on one factor in the complex story of how technical drawing emerged, namely the application of linear perspective to practical realities of surveying and topography, where accuracy of information was, and is, a matter of life and death.

First, we shall wish to explore links between linear perspective and peacetime surveying before considering its links with the military: both in terms of theory, and practical instruments that served as perspective aids. To understand more fully the context generating these connections, we shall turn to the question whether the practitioners responsible were professionals or amateurs. Particular attention will be given to the role of painters in this process, which phenomenon will lead us inevitably to some insights concerning both specific paintings and the general artistic context. In our conclusion we shall reassess briefly the significance of this practical dimension of perspective that is usually overlooked by historians.


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