Kim H. Veltman
Computers and Renaissance Perspective
Written for Annual Leonardo Meeting, Brescia 1991 Published as Appendix to: Leonardo's Method, Brescia: Centro Ricerche Leonardiane, 1993.
2. Window Method
3. Geometrical Method
A long tradition of Euclidean geometry developed two-dimensional conventions of representation to the extent that they were part of the legitimation process in mathematics. As a result, Renaissance treatises on perspective evidence a basic paradox: they use abstract two-dimensional conventions to display the principles of a new threedimensional method of representing space. This is achieved by folding different planes (usually a lateral view and or a ground view) into a single plane (usually a frontal view). This procedure of folding back (technically termed ribaltimento in Italian and rabattement in French), makes most of the diagrams in the early treatises virtually incomprehensible to the untrained eye, all the more so because the reader is confronted with a completed construction which usually gives no visual clues concerning the steps taken to get there. One can identify the steps taken in arriving at an end product in any of these constructions; one can reconstruct these steps and theoretically it would be possible to print these, except that the cost of including so many diagrams makes this alternative prohibitively expensive. All of which helps explain why these treatises have never been studied systematically.
A project sponsored by the Perspective Institute in the McLuhan Centre at the University of Toronto is exploring some of the new possibilities offered by computer animation. The system presently uses an IBM compatible 286 personal computer with 240 Megabytes and uses AutoCAD 10 for the illustrations. A perspective databank with classification systems, definitions, explanations, bibliography exists on DBASE III Plus and will be integrated with the illustrations using a Geographical Information System (GIS) provided by Generation 5 Cartotechnical Limited. This system will be expanded to include full text, reconstructions and links with digitized paintings from the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) project and from the Marburg Index, using ICONCLASS. The project is headed by the author; coordinated by Jeff Kemp, with programming by Jerry Szazman, with illustrations and reconstructions by Eric R. Dobbs. This paper uses some of these reconstructions as a starting point for reconsidering the nature of the two major methods of renaissance perspective which Panofsky coined the legitimate construction and distance point construction. Ironically in trying to present animation techniques in print form the article faces a handicap parallel to that of the Renaissance authors who presented their three-dimensional versions in two-dimensions, with the exception that these limitations in the article have been imposed by technology.
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