This ambition is echoed when he says of the Paradise Doors: I strove to observe every measurement in them, seeking to imitate nature at far as I possibly could…[the narratives istorie ] were all in compartments so ordered that the eye measures them in such a way that, standing back, they appear in three dimensions [rilevati]. The relief [itself] is very low and on the planes the figures can be seen so that those near to appear larger than those farther off, just as is shown in reality.
His terminology—images species , the visual faculty virtu visiva —indicates his knowledge of medieval optics and its experimental and empirical approach to the subject. Though somewhat awkwardly assembled and at times repetitive, these quotations were certainly not chosen at random.
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He also follows his sources into the labyrinths of catoptrics—the study of the properties of mirrors—something of particular interest in painting at the time, especially in northern Europe. His intention is to give painting and sculpture a scientific basis equal, say, to geometry and optics and arithmetic. The artistic expertise lies in disposing the sequential narratives in space so that the eye reads them as though real, rather than in the interpretation of content. Fortunately, we do have his works as a visual demonstration of his ideas. Why did Ghiberti write these Commentarii and for whom?
The overall argument concerns visual perception, both natural and scientific, and naturalism in art. Indeed, a certain defensiveness of tone suggests he felt the need to justify his own procedures and claim his rightful position in the van of contemporary art. Perhaps, with his knowledge of Latin and his association with contemporary humanists, he felt in a singular position to make the ideas of classical and medieval authors, probably circulating at the time in Florentine workshops, available to the ordinary practitioner.
However, it is hard to say how far the Commentarii were known outside his immediate circle. The Commentarii, as we have them, are not polished, nor is Ghiberti an elegant writer. The sutures between the quotations which make up books one and three are not smoothly negotiated. They also reveal something of the man and their strength lies precisely in their honesty and lack of literary pretension. In the long, somewhat breathless, description of the martyrdom of the Franciscans by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, we share his excitement at reading what is going on and his enthusiasm at identifying where the extraordinary skill of the artist lay Even looking back over the years, he can vividly recall the immediacy of the emotion he felt before the works he has seen.
He then turns to the medievals to explain the scientific theory However, what interests him is what he sees and his own experience of the fall of light on objects: the way a chalcedony carved with figures must be viewed against a strong light to perceive its full beauty; the way temperate light reveals the subtleties of carved marble. Lorenzo Ghiberti — 43 Biography Lorenzo di Cione Ghiberti was born in in Florence, his natural father a notary, his step-father a goldsmith.
He trained as a goldsmith and painter. In he won the competition for the second bronze doors of the Florentine Baptistery — In he was commissioned for a second set of doors known as the Gates of Paradise. These were finished in Other commissions included three bronze statues for the church of Or san Michele in Florence and the bronze tomb of St Zenobius for Florence Cathedral. He worked in Siena on the Baptistery Font.
He also worked as an architect, being appointed, along with Brunelleschi, to supervise the building of the dome of the Cathedral, and as a designer of stained glass. He died on 1 December in Florence. No full English translation exists. Hurd, Bryn Mawr College, Secondary literature Federici Vescovini, G.
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Parronchi, Studi su la dolce prospettiva, Milan, Schlosser Magnino, J. However, Alberti was also trained, first in Padua and then at university in Bologna, in the other Liberal Arts—grammar, rhetoric and dialectic—which made up the curriculum of the humanities. All his writings—from the Ludi matematici Mathematical games , on surveying, to the Della famiglia On the family , on family ethics—display a coherence of analysis and expression stemming from this background.
The De pictura On painting and the De statua On sculpture , are no exception, for in them either art is given its own scientific and expressive rationale. Unlike his contemporaries who wrote on art, Cennino Cennini and Lorenzo Ghiberti, both practising artists, Alberti worked mainly as a papal secretary Nevertheless, he did engage in both arts, although nothing, except a self-portrait medal with the emblem of a winged eye, can be fairly attributed to him. In its imagery Alberti encapsulates his beliefs and aspirations and the sources from whence they came.
Portrayed in stern profile, classically clad, his hair cut after the Roman manner, Alberti declares himself heir to the great Republican past. The medal revives an antique type, and, in durable bronze, reflects an antique consciousness of posthumous fame.
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The medal is usually dated around —55, when, newly arrived in Florence with the papal curia, Alberti wrote De pictura, which he then abridged and translated into Italian Della pittura in , dedicating it to those in the van of Florentine art at that time— Brunelleschi principally, but also, Donatello, Ghiberti, Masaccio, and Luca della Robbia. The tone is didactic, encouraging an intellectual approach to painting both in the underlying natural science of its practice and the overt moral significance of its purpose. As Alberti explains in his dedicatory preface to the Italian version, the book is in three parts: Leon Battista Alberti —72 45 The first, which is entirely mathematical, shows how this noble and beautiful art arises from roots within nature herself.
The second puts the art into the hands of the artist, distinguishes its parts and explains them all. The third instructs the artist how he may and should attain complete mastery and understanding of the art of painting. This tripartite form echoes classical poetics: first, the grammar; second, the poem itself; third, the character of the poet. Nor is he writing a practical manual on making colours etc.
However, he continually says he writes as a painter and, although for him practice is inextricably bound up with theory, in the Italian version for artists as against the Latin version for Gianfrancesco Gonzaga at Mantua , he plays down the literary for the more scientific basis of the art.
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This is particularly apparent in Book 1 where, relying on classical and medieval optics, he establishes the underlying geometrical principles governing vision, so that the painter, when simulating the three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface, will be on the same visual wavelength as the viewer. After criticizing current workshop practice as too approximate, he presents a procedure for creating space in painting, reflecting, in its fictive visual rationale, the demonstrable visual rationale that informs appearances.
This is based on the principle that the surface of any painting is but the intersection of the pyramid of rays taking the apex at the eye to what is seen, standing at a certain distance away, delimited by the shape of the projected painting so as to appear as though seen through a window.
Alberti has replaced the abstract geometry of the natural scientist for the material geometry of the painter to explain what we see. For coherence the procedure demanded a fixed viewpoint common to both painter and viewer. The pictorial technique may reflect earlier demonstrations, again based on optical geometry, made by Brunelleschi in Florence to show buildings in space, but, in these, Brunelleschi was not concerned with content. Here, the painter must master the three parts of his art: circumscription circumscriptio , composition compositio , and the reception of light luminum receptio.
Key writers on art 46 These divisions follow classical principles of recognition. It refines the initial idea and controls how it is expressed. This compositional coherence, each part inextricably but economically, linked to another, recalling Vitruvius on architecture, constitutes the essential requirement for the historia Italian istoria , which is, according to Alberti, the ultimate purpose of painting and the ultimate goal of the painter. Alberti invests it with a new creative resonance. His historia, like an oration, demands original synthesis and interpretation.
Therefore, the painter, like the orator, should possess, beyond his craft, learning and personal rectitude to give his point of view depth and authority. He recommends knowledge of all the Liberal Arts, but also that the painter, when composing his historia, consult with others perhaps more skilled than he. However, in the end, the responsibility is his own, and abstract learning should be distilled through experience and guided by reason. To demonstrate this he cites the Greek painter, Apelles, who, in representing Calumny, or Slander, disposed its various aspects—deceit, envy truth etc.
Thus, as the painter gives material substance to abstract geometry, so he gives shape and form to abstractions, and, as a speaker puts letters, syllables and words together to explain his invention—what he has formulated in his mind—so the painter puts outline, surface and members together to display his. The Latin De statua deals with this. Unlike for De pictura, Alberti made no Italian translation. The first dedication we have is in the s, but its tone and content suggest that Alberti was working out what was new in civic statuary, particularly that of his friend, Donatello, Leon Battista Alberti —72 47 in Florence in the s.
The De statua seems, at first, merely a technical manual, for, in it, Alberti describes two complementary mechanisms for creating a standing figure from a given block of marble.
The exempeda is a simple ruler, calibrated from the foot to give the overall height. Used together, these two instruments establish three-dimensional form. Alberti could see that the ancients had created figures with arms outstretched, not confined to their sides, as with his contemporaries. His system would allow for this. These proportions, taken from various models, register only the height, but, from these, the others can be calculated.
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Thus his system, reflecting the co-ordination of elevation and groundplan in projecting a building, was as much conceptual as practical. It showed how the sculptor might make a living person from inanimate stone. The exempeda establishes the abiding character, or ethos, evident in the form of a person. The finitorium establishes, through pose and movement, how that particular person would act when moved by the emotion, or pathos, of his thought. As with painting, movement engages the viewer not only with the overt drama, but with the emotion which lies below the surface.
It presents an actual experience which at once catches the attention and affects the mind. Through it, art has the potential to influence and, indeed, alter accepted opinion. Alberti was writing when art was principally directed towards religion. Though couched in secular language, his views share the same background and identify the same instructive potential in art as that developed by medieval theologians.
However, he was also writing at a time of incipient artistic licence. Usually this claim to licence was founded on the long-standing view that poetry and painting shared a common impulse in the imagination fantasia. The influence of the De pictura and the Italian Della pittura on both patronage, painting and artistic theory in the fifteenth century remained seminal and dynamic.