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Argan Brunelleschi

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Gian Carlo Argan
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  The Architecture of Brunelleschi and the Origins of Perspective Theory in the FifteenthCenturyAuthor(s): Giulio Carlo Argan and Nesca A. RobbSource: Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 9 (1946), pp. 96-121Published by: The Warburg InstituteStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/750311 Accessed: 22/01/2010 23:03 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available athttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. 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The Warburg Institute  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to  Journal of theWarburg and Courtauld Institutes. http://www.jstor.org  THE ARCHITECTURE OF BRUNELLESCHI AND THE ORIGINS OF PERSPECTIVE THEORY IN THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY By Giulio Carlo Argan r | ahe invention of perspective and the discovery of antiquity: these two 1 events have for long been held to mark he beginnings of the Renaissance. Modern criticism has sharply limited the importance of both events, and above all of the second: so profound a transformation f the artistic conscience could not clearly have been caused by external circumstances. It is not so much needful to decide how far the artists of the early Quattrocento had penetrated nto the objective understanding f space (if indeed one can speak of such an objective understanding) r into the knowledge of the documents relating to antique art, as it is to discover the internal necessity that urged them to seek that knowledge. In fact the same inward mpulse s common to both activities: the search for a more exact knowledge of space and that for a more exact knowledge of antique art are inseparable, until such time at least as the study of antique art assumes, as it does in the full maturity of humanistic culture, an independent existence as the science of antiquity. It is well known that the new ideal of beauty was defined, classically, as a harmony of parts, n other words by means of the idea of proportion, which, according to Vitruvius, is the same thing as the Greek 9axovLoc; nd it was with this same word that Euclid described geometrical congruity, which is the fundamental principle of perspective. If perspective s the process by which we arrive at proportion, hat is to say, at beauty or the perfection of art, it is also the process by which we reach the antique which is art par excellence or perfect beauty. The classical radition had been neither lost nor extinguished hroughout the whole of the Middle Ages; on the contrary, it had been diffused and popularized. To set oneself the task of rediscovering he ancients, meant setting oneself to determine he concrete historical value of the achievements of ancient art, as distinguished rom ts mediaeval corruptions nd populariza- tions. The activity by which we recognize value is judgment, and judgment is an act of the total consciousness. Enthusiasm or, or faith in antiquity, impulses which had had, during the Middle Ages their moments of genuine exaltation, are henceforth nsufficient: he formulation of judgment, since it implies a definition of the value of consciousness, mplies also a definition of the value of reality, because such a judgment is a judgment of being and not-being, of reality and non-reality. What was sought for in ancient art was therefore not a transcendental value, but, in opposition o mediaeval ranscendentalism, n immanent value, a conception of the world. The touchstone by which we recognize values is reality: not a limitless and continuous reality which can be grasped only in the particular, and in which man himself s absorbed, but nature as a reality conceived by man and distinct from him as the object from the subject. 96  THE ARCHITECTURE OF BRUNFT.T.FjSCHI 97 Nature is the form of reality, in so far as it reveals and makes it tangible in its full complexity: the laws of form are also the laws of nature, and the mental process by which we arrive at the conception of nature is the same as that which leads to the conception of form, that is to say of art.l The Renaissance begins, so far as the figurative arts are concerned, when to artistic activity is added the idea of art as a consciousness f its own act: it is then that the mediaeval ars mechanica ecomes ars liberalis. Ancient art- writes D. Frey2-appears to the Btestern mind as nature, with a heightened significance whereby the natural becomes the expression of a profound ruth and of perfection. Thus in the West every tendency to naturalistic r rational- istic development s always referable o a classical source. The formulation of a common law for nature and for artistic form lies in perspective: which may in general terms, be defined as the method or mental procedure or the determination f value. In the writers of the Quattrocento excepting naturally n Cennini and Ghiberti we see clearly the belief that perspective s not simply a rule of optics which may also be applied to artistic expression, but a procedure peculiar to art, which in art has its single and logical end. Perspective s art itself in its totality: no relation is possible be- tween the artist and the world except through the medium of perspective, just as no relation is possible between the human spirit and reality short of falling back upon the mediaeval antithesis of conceptualism and nominalism unless we assume the conception of nature. Hence proceeds hat identity of perspective-painting nd science, clearly aErmed by the theorists of the Quattrocento. The starting point of the controversy between modernists and tradition- alists at the beginning ofthe Quattrocento eems o me to be notably ndicated in a passage, probably not devoid of polemical intentions, n the Pittura of Alberti: no man denies that of such things as we cannot see there is none that appertaineth unto the painter: the painter studieth to depict only that which is seen. On the other hand, according o Cennini, a typical representative f the traditionalist chool, the painter's ask is to discover hings unseen, that are hid beneath the shadow of things natural. The exact interpretation f the passage, which has been variously explained,3 s to be found in Chapter lxxxvii of the same Libro dell'Arte, where it is suggested to the painter that: if thou wouldst earn to paint mountains n a worthy manner, so that they be like nature, take great stones which be rough and not cleansed and draw them as they are, adding light and shade as it shall seem fit to thee. Since the result to be aimed at is a symbol of the mountain, the object (the stone) has no value in itself, apart from its external configuration, 1 For the nature-form elation in Renais- 3 E. Panofsky n Idea (Teubner ed., Berlin, sance thought see E. Cassirer, Individuo I924), p. 23 and note 94 has given a Neo- Cosmo, r. Federici, Florence, La Nuova Italia Platonic interpretation of this passage of ed., p. 25I. Cennini; it is, however, a question of 2 D. Frey, L'Architettura ella Rinascenza, mediaeval Neo-Platonism in the Plotinian Rome, I924, p. 7. tradition.  98 GIULIO CARLO ARGAN analogous o that of the mountain. The analogy s purely external, morpho- logical; but the difference, which consists n the situation of the mountain in space, is of no interest to the painter because the formal motive of his picture is not spatial, and indeed takes no account of space. He will link that image with others n obedience o a rhythmic or narrative coherence but principally n obedience to a manner acquired through long discipleship with his masters, hat is, with tradition. From the perception of the material datum (the stone) the artistic process s still a long one: and since its end is in infinity or in abstraction, of what significance can the distance between the neighbouring tone and the far-off mountain be when compared witll that? When, on the other hand, Alberti affirms hat the visible is the domain of the painter, he does not refer to the mechanical perception of the eye and the limited notions that derive from it, but to a full, total, sensory experience. The eye may be considered as a mechanical and impersonal nstrument, a recording mechanism: nstead the senses are already considered as a grade of intelligence. Alberti, though he denies that the mental domain of the painter can extend beyond the limits of the domain of the senses, yet affirms that the artistic process does not begin, as it does for Cennini, with the data of visible things, only to end in an abstraction, but takes place wholly within the sphere of sensory experience as a process of understanding nd investigation: that very experience will not be complete and fully defined until after such reflection. Cennini restricted he painter's contact with reality as far as he could, so as to leave the widest possible margin for tradition. Alberti, by making the limits of reality coincide exactly with those of the sensory powers, refuses any value to tradition considered as a complex of ideas learned without reference o direct experience. It is true that Cennini also demands a contact with reality (the stone which is copied as a symbol of the mountain): but that is only because tradition is transmitted hrough moments of reality, which are the lives of men. For Alberti, life is an ultimate value: it neither receives nor transmits a universal nheritance, but rather, in its very consciousness f its own finite nature, that is, in the completeness f its experience ofthe world, it arrives at a point where it has the value of universality. We have already pointed out that with the assumption of the idea of nature as the limit or definition of reality, the value of consciousness r of personality was contemporaneously n process of definition. Certainly man also is, and feels himself to be, nature; but he feels himself to be so in so far as he has already detached himself from unlimited reality, and the limits within which he recognizes himself are marked by what he can grasp and understand of reality, that is by nature. Nature and the Ego, born of the same act, are governed by the same law; man identifies himself no longer with the creation, but with the Creator. The man of the Renaissance, n this Platonic determination f his to know himself n nature, necessarily ocussed his first and most ardent nterest upon his own native sensory capacity, upon his own naturalness. It has been justly remarked hat the opposition which the thought of the Renaissance ays down
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