The Architecture of Brunelleschi and the Origins of Perspective Theory in the Fifteenth Century Author(s): Giulio Carlo Argan

and Nesca A. Robb Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 9 (1946), pp. 96-121 Published by: The Warburg Institute Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/750311 . Accessed: 20/03/2012 14:02
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

The Warburg Institute is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of the Warburg 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
I perspective discovery antiquity: The events have for long been held to mark the beginnings of the Renaissance. invention of and the of these two

Modern criticism has sharply limited the importance of both events, and above all of the second: so profound a transformationof 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 into the objective understanding of space (if indeed one can speak of such an objective understanding) or 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 impulse is 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, in other words by means of the idea of proportion, which, according to Vitruvius, is the same thing as the Greek &voxoyl ; and it was with this same word that Euclid described geometrical congruity, which is the fundamental principle of perspective. If perspective is the process by which we arrive at proportion, that 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 or excellence perfect beauty. The classical tradition had been neither lost nor extinguished throughout it had been diffused and the whole of the Middle Ages; on the To set oneself the task ofcontrary,, rediscovering the ancients, meant popularized. setting oneself to determine the concrete historical value of the achievements of ancient art, as distinguished from its mediaeval corruptions and popularizations. The activity by which we recognize value is judgment, and judgment is an act of the total consciousness. Enthusiasm for, or faith in antiquity, impulses which had had, during the Middle Ages their moments of genuine exaltation, are henceforth insufficient: the formulation of judgment, since it implies a definition of the value of consciousness, implies 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 to mediaeval transcendentalism, an 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 is absorbed, but nature as a reality conceived by man and distinct from him as the object from the subject.
96

THE ARCHITECTURE

OF BRUNELLESCHI

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.1 The Renaissance begins, so far as the figurative arts are concerned, when to artistic activity is added the idea of art as a consciousness of its own act: it is then that the mediaeval ars mechanica becomes ars liberalis. "Ancient artwrites D. Frey2-appears to the Western mind as nature, with a heightened significance whereby the natural becomes the expression of a profound truth and of perfection. Thus in the West every tendency to naturalistic or rationalistic development is always referable to 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 for the determination of value. In the writers of the Quattrocento -excepting naturally in Cennini and Ghiberti-we see clearly the belief that perspective is 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 is art itself in its totality: no relation is possible between 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 that identity of perspective-painting and science, clearly affirmed by the theorists of the Quattrocento. The starting point of the controversy between modernists and traditionalists at the beginning of the Quattrocento seems to me to be notably indicated in a passage, probably not devoid of polemical intentions, in 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 to Cennini, a typical representative of the traditionalist school, the painter's task is "to discover things unseen, that are hid beneath the shadow of things natural." The exact interpretation of the passage, which has been variously explained,3 is to be found in Chapter lxxxvii of the same "Libro dell'Arte," where it is suggested to the painter that: "if thou wouldst learn to paint mountains in 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 relation in Renaissance thought see E. Cassirer, Individuo e Cosmo, tr. Federici, Florence, La Nuova Italia ed., p. 251. 2 D. Frey, L'Architettura della Rinascenza, Rome, 1924, p. 7.

3 E. Panofsky in Idea (Teubner ed., Berlin, 1924), P. 23 and note 94 has given a NeoPlatonic interpretation of this passage of Cennini; it is, however, a question of mediaeval Neo-Platonism in the Plotinian tradition.

98

GIULIO CARLO ARGAN

analogous to that of the mountain. The analogy is purely external, morphological; but the difference, which consists in 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 in obedience to a rhythmic or narrative coherence but principally in obedience to a "manner" acquired through long discipleship with his masters, that is, with tradition. From the perception of the material datum (the stone) the artistic process is still a long one: and since its end is in infinity or in abstraction, of what significance can the distance between the neighbouring stone and the far-off mountain be when compared with that? When, on the other hand, Alberti affirms that 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 instrument, a recording mechanism: instead 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 and investigation: that very experience will not be complete and fully defined until after such reflection. Cennini restricted the 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 to 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 through moments of reality, which are the lives of men. For Alberti, life is an ultimate value: it neither receives nor transmits a universal inheritance, but rather, in its very consciousness of its own finite nature, that is, in the completeness of its experience of the 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 or of personality was contemporaneously in 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, in this Platonic determination of his to know himself in nature, necessarily focussed his first and most ardent interest upon his own native sensory capacity, upon his own naturalness. It has been justly remarked that the opposition which the thought of the Renaissance lays down

THE ARCHITECTURE

OF BRUNELLESCHI

99

as a first definition of personality is not that between man and nature, but that between man (vir) and fate (fortuna); nature is "an organism not hostile to man but akin to him, and dowered with intelligence, an open field wherein he may extend his personality."1 From the opposition of virtus and fortuna, which derives from the Scholastic view of man's struggle for good against the constant assaults of evil, the moral quality of personality emerged; Giovanni Pisano, Giotto, Dante, Petrarch, were, during the Trecento, the great representatives of this dramatic conception of life as a struggle for redemption. Nature, conceived as full and lucid sensory experience, presupposes this moral conception of personality; it is a reality already grasped and comprehended, and so clear and transparent that the human person, that supreme example and image of the perfection of the divine creation, can see itself reflected there as in a mirror. But this inspired, and indeed profoundly classic moment, in which man becomes aware of his own naturalness, is not the end. Life is not that moment, it is the series of such moments. If we start by affirming the moral quality of personality; if, that is, we consider it in relation to an end, there immediately arises the problem of the relation of life, in all its activities, to its initial naturalness and to its final aim. And here we have already the problem of history as a consciousness of its own "activity."2 In fact if the final aim is complete self-knowledge, the whole life of the spirit will consist in retracing its natural life, hitherto empiric, to an ideal ancestry or an ideal genesis. Burdach's interpretation of the Renaissance as a regeneration or rebirth in the antique (in a Christian, that is in an ethical sense)3 is thus given its full force: the process of this palingenesis is history, through which we are enabled to rediscover our true nature, and so to rise from an empiric to a systematic conception of the world. Thus the opposition of the identity of nature and history to the mediaeval identification of reality with tradition, finds an historical justification, before it finds a theoretical one; in the monuments of ancient art the artists of the Quattrocento seek to discover their own Latin nature in its most essential characteristics. Even that first description of humanity as virtus in opposition to fortuna then assumes a precise historical significance; the very one that Petrarch gives it when he will take up arms against the furore of the proclaims that Roman virtz& "barbarian" invaders. It is the rational light of history that dispels the darkness of hostile fate. This idea of Latin virtus is undoubtedly active in Cennini, when he points out that Giotto "changed art from Greek into Latin, and made it modern": the term "Latin" cannot certainly correspond to any concrete figurative experiment, but only to the moral order of values. To oriental mysticism in fact Giotto opposes a religious sentiment that fulfils itself in drama, that is to say in action, and that can be measured in the activities of practical life. Of Brunelleschi, Manetti says that "he restored that fashion in buildings which is called Roman or antique" "for before him these were all German
1 G. Nicco, introduction to the critical edition of the De Prospectiva Pingendi of Piero della Francesca," Sansoni, Florence, I942, p. I7. 2 For the conception of life as activity, from which it follows that "only in his history can man give proof of his freedom and creative power" see E. Cassirer, op. citb, p. 733 K. Burdach, Riforma, Rinascimento, Umanesimo, tr. Cantimori, Sansoni, Florence, 1933-

100

GIULIO CARLO ARGAN

and were called modern." In Manetti the Germans (Gothic Art) have taken the place of the Greeks, of whom indeed, as Worringer has acutely pointed out, they were the natural heirs. For Cennini the word modern has a positive sense, for Manetti it has a negative one: for Cennini modern means actual, for Manetti non-actual, since the corsivo has become the antique. Modern has become the equivalent of the merely chronological; in the antique the value of history is already implicit. That this is by no means an objective inquiry is, however, revealed by the fact that Manetti is in nowise concerned to determine whether Brunelleschi had rediscovered or invented the constructional laws of the ancients, laws being taken to mean both their technical expedients and their "musical proportions," that is to say symmetry and perspective; "those who might have taught him these things had been dead for hundreds of years: and they are not to be found in writing, or if they be found they may not well be understood; but his own industry and subtlety did either rediscover them or else were themselves the discoverers." It is significant that the same thought is to be found also in Alberti: "If this art was ever described in writing we are those who have dug it up from underground, and if it was never so described, we have drawn it from heaven." To rediscover or to invent, to find the law of ancient art or of nature, are one and the same thing; the same process by which we establish the conception of nature leads us on to establish the conception of beauty, or of artistic perfection, and to recognize it as historically manifest in Roman art. Granted that the investigation of nature and the investigation of history are inseparable, the problem, which has tormented modern idealist critics, of the relation between pictorial and scientific perspective, or more simply between art and science, at the beginning of the Renaissance, loses its importance. It has already been remarked that perspective is not a constant law, but a moment in the history of the idea of space: whence it follows that the problem of sight, in passing from optics to geometry, passes from the objective to the subjective sphere.1 It is certain, in any case, that the conception of the homogenous quality of space is first set forth in the figurative arts, and then, consequently, in the physical and mathematical sciences.2 To our modern consciousness it seems obvious that, if the opposite had occurred, art would have lost all creative power in the mechanical processes In judging thus it assumes as an absolute of application and deduction. a characteristic peculiar to Renaissance art, and fails to see its principle historical significance: before the Renaissance the value of art lay not in creation, but in repetition, in continuing the tradition by remaining within it, instead of breaking out of it in order to renew it. The value of creativity which the aesthetic theory of the Renaissance recognizes in artistic achievement, derives from the idea that nature is ordered and therefore created by the artist. The novelty or originality of a work of art is such only in so far as the work of art emerges from tradition, and in emerging from it, contradicts it; and since tradition is no longer a dogma, but an object of criticism, there can be neither invention nor creation except through the medium of a critical
tion of reality, E. Panofsky's essay "Die G. Nicco, op. cit., p. 29. 2For the systematic exposition of the Perspective als symbolische Form" (Vortrdge problem of central perspective as an abstrac- der Bibl. Warburg, IV, 1924-25) is essential.
1

THE ARCHITECTURE

OF BRUNELLESCHI

ror

approach to tradition. The ordering or creation of nature is therefore not an act of authority but an act of reason. The power of invention or of creation comes to the artist not from the grace of God, but from the integrity of his own consciousness, from the lucidity of his historical vision. Cennini can take pleasure in making clear his own descent from Giotto by way of an uninterrupted tradition that passes through Agnolo and Taddeo Gaddi; for the artists of the Quattrocento, beginning at Masaccio, Giotto is the great, isolated protagonist of the Trecento: the tradition that originated in his art merely altered and obscured its value, a value which criticism alone should determine. Even for Giotto art was mechanical, a craftsman's labour; but the judgment of posterity recognizes in that "fare" an ideal aim, which it denies to that of imitators and followers, from the very fact that they are such. To this "making" or "producing" the art of the Renaissance opposes not abstract speculation but "genius," "invention" ;' the artist in the process of invention is conscious of the novelty of what he is doing, and so invention is a "making" accompanied by judgment or the attribution of value. There thus arises the idea of the artist-hero, a coryphaeusor protagonist of history; but he is this in so far as he is conscious of the value of his own activity, that is, in so far as he is himself an historian. His work breaks the continuity of tradition to justify itself in history, just as it emerges from the confusion of matter to justify itself in nature. The mental process which, in the same act, eliminates matter and chronicle (or tradition) by judging them as values, is, as we have said, perspective. This process is clearly described by Alberti. Remember Ghiberti's dictum: "nothing can be seen except by light." Though it is here considered as a physical phenomenon, this light is still a divine emanation or irradiation, a first cause which is reflected in all things and reveals them. Alberti on the contrary wishes to clarify the idea of things: "we call that a thing which occupies a place." Clearly if anything in nature exists in space, space also is nature; in fact it is the principle of nature since the place which things occupy is necessarily antecedent to the things. This may seem to imply a serious objection to the necessity, which Alberti categorically affirms, of limiting the domain of art to the visible. We must deduce from it that the experience of the senses is not primary, but secondary. Reason is therefore the basis of life, even of the life of the senses. In fact: "large, small, long, short, high, low, wide, narrow, light, dark, luminous, shadowy and all qualities of that kind-which because they may or may not be added unto things, the philosophers are wont to call accidentsare such that all knowledge of them is made by comparison." It is therefore by reasoning that the accidents are distinguished from the substance of things. But this substance is not, as has been assumed, their plastic form, their volume: volume is perceived through the medium of light and shade, height and width, and these qualities, too, have been placed among the accidents.
1 In Albertian terminology the faculty that simultaneously investigates and invents, or in other words sums up and synthetizes the moments of speculation and of action is For the distinction between "ingegno." "ingegno" and mathematical rationality, and for the necessity of artistic creation as an expression of the first, see Lionello Venturi, Storia della critica d'arte, Italian ed., Florence, 1945, P. 128.

102

GIULIO

CARLO ARGAN

Moreover it is clear that in making his catalogue of accidents, Alberti intended to exhaust all the possible forms of the visible. Strictly speaking, if a thing had been stripped of all its accidents, nothing would remain of it except the void in space left by its disappearance.' But Alberti knows that if painting is concerned only with the visible, it is impossible to separate the thing from its accidents: indeed the thing itself is an accident until it is known "by comparison": it would be illimitably wide and illimitably long, and illimitably deep if we did not establish the relation between width, length, and depth; all dazzling light or impenetrable darkness if we did not establish the relation between light and shade. We may say therefore that the idea or substance of a thing is merely a position in space, but that position is determined precisely by the fact that it gives a situation to proportionately (per comparatione) all the accidents, that is to say, because it re-absorbs and eliminates the matter of which the thing is composed into a system of proportional relations. This is indeed the function of "design." The graphic outline is originally linked with the colouristic matter as a boundary between zones of colour: in the Trecentesque tradition it was purely a rhythmic pattern or a narrative in rhyme and that rhythmic cadence was still dependent on the relation of the line to an already formulated colouristic modulation. For Alberti the outline is the edge of the surface, that is the boundary between fullness and void; nor can we say that it belongs more to the fullness than to the void (or more to the thing than to space) because its function is precisely that of mediating, or of acting as a link and solder between one and the other. As has been seen, in fact, emptiness cannot be thought of apart from fullness, nor can space be conceived of separately from the things that occupy it. (When Masolino or Paolo Uccello wish to represent the void independently of the full, they reduce perspective to the Trecentesque idea of infinite spatiality.) The need now becomes clear for a recourse to Euclidean geometry or to the Platonic description of geometrical forms as perfect forms or ideas-archetypes from which all.sensible forms are derived: geometrical forms are pure spatial sites or pure metrical relations which in their own finitude express the whole of space. It is not by chance that Alberti defines design in the same words as those which his master, Francesco Filelfo, used in defining the idea as described by Plato: a representation "ab omni materia separata." The conception of design, as the common root of all the arts, that is, as the designation of the absolute value of form, is therefore very closely related to the conception of perspective: perspective is actually the method of design, in so far as it is absolute representation. It is superfluous to point out that representation and invention may be equivalent terms: because there can be
1 On the impossibility of imagining space as empty, or as an "enclosing medium that encloses nothing" see Cassirer, op. cit., p. 285. Alberti's conception of cognitione per comparatione, the basis of the theory of proportion, is certainly related to the idea expressed by Cusanus (De Docta Ignorantia Io. I): "Comparativa est omnis inquisitio, medio proportionis utens." On the great importance of the thought of Cusanus, who was in Italy in the early decades of the I5th cent. and who certainly knew Alberti, see, besides Cassirer's fundamental work, G. Nicco, ob. cit. To G. Nicco, too, we owe a notable essay on the development of perspective theory in treatises from Euclid to Piero della Francesca, Le Arti, V, 1942, no. 2, p. 59-

THE ARCHITECTURE OF BRUNELLESCHI

10o3

no representation, but only mechanical imitation, if the image does not wholly replace the object and become a substitute for it as a value or authentic reality, just as nature, as a representation of reality, becomes the one authentic reality for the thought of the Renaissance. II If we admit that the artistic process has a basis of historical thought, the origin of the fundamental ideas of Renaissance Art-perspective and designmust be sought in the work of an artist-hero: only through such a medium could these ideas have any positive effect on the subsequent course of artistic development. The "trattati d'arte" themselves, though ostensibly concerned with a theoretical definition of the idea of art, are in reality the first attempts at a history of art as a history of the artists, because their criterion is no other than a generalization from those works of art in which they perceive an absolute value. The formulation of the principle of perspective, or the invention of perspective, are ascribed by general consent to Brunelleschi: the first person of that artistic trinity which is completed by Donatello and Masaccio. On this point Manetti is uncompromising: "in those times he brought to light and himself put into practice that which painters to-day call perspective because it is a part of the science that consists in placing those diminutions and enlargements that appear to men's eyes from afar or close at hand, both skilfully and fittingly ... and from him originated the rule which is the meaning of all that has been done from that time to this." It is interesting to note the distinction that Manetti makes between the originating intuition of Brunelleschi and the codification or application of it which the "dipintori" have successively ("oggi")drawn from it. The distinction is not purely chronological. For the painters, perspective is the law for making "houses and plains and mountains and landscapes of every kind, and in every place, with figures and other things of such a size as befits the distance from which they are observed." Had Brunelleschi elaborated this rule as a law of vision, Manetti would not have so accurately distinguished the Brunelleschian principle from the interpretation which has later been given to it by other painters, who have applied it to a consideration of the external world that has clearly no connection with architecture. It is thus impossible to distinguish Brunelleschi's researches on perspective from his artistic activity, that is to say, from his architecture: it is from this, as Manetti points out, that the painters deduce their law of vision. This means that, since architecture is free of any necessity to "imitate" reality, the formal discipline of architecture must precede and condition the painter's contact with reality; he will indeed study reality, because the painter's realm is the visible world, but he will do so through the formal patterns of architecture. This is, we think, the historical origin of the principle that architecture is the basis or mother of all the arts: a principle easily reducible to the other (of design as the common root of all the arts), which will be clearly formulated in the Cinquecento. Architecture, indeed, as an art free from any necessity of imitating reality, is design itself: representation separate from "ogni materia."

104

GIULIO

CARLO ARGAN

It is now necessary to see how this law "which is the meaning of all that has been done from that time to this" was developed in the architecture of Brunelleschi. Manetti, a mathematician, says of perspective: "not without reason, just now did I call it science," for science is making "according to law." The Life of Manetti is of later date than the Pitturaof Alberti and is largely indebted to it; and one of the most important innovations, in Alberti's treatise, was perhaps that idea of "knowledge by comparison" which emerges in opposition to the Scholastic conception of knowledge as scireper causas. Since the Pittura of Alberti consists of reflections on the great Masters of the early Quattrocento, and particularly on Brunelleschi, it is to the latter that we may attribute, not perhaps the formulation, but the first understanding of that principle which for causes, understood as external moving forces, substitutes laws, understood as immanent causes which are produced by the reciprocal co-relation of phenomena. In the architecture of Brunelleschi, therefore, must be sought the first understanding of design as an act of knowledge or that per cognitione comparatione, is, the first laying down of that theory of proportion, which in its turn becomes the basic criterion for the understanding of ancient art. That Brunelleschi had undertaken some inquiry into the laws of vision may well be inferred from what Manetti tells us of the two panels on which Brunelleschi had depicted the Baptistery and the Palazzo della Signoria. Yet the very objects depicted, buildings and not landscapes, suggest that these studies were not connected with the formulation of a general theory, but with the concrete, particular figurative and architectonic interests of the artist. Of the first of these two panels we know that the spectator had to look at it reflected in a mirror, through an opening cut in the wood, at a distance proportionate to that at which the painter had placed himself while at work: moreover, instead of a painted sky there was a background of burnished silver which reflected the real sky with its clouds moving before the wind. The second panel, on the other hand, being too large to permit the use of this device, was cut out along the line of the rooftops, and one loooked at it against a background of sky. Manetti's description is enough to show that the genesis of several ideas on which Alberti was later to build up his perspective theory can be traced back to Brunelleschi. By means of the device of the hole in the middle of the picture, the spectator was constrained to look at the painting, reflected in the mirror, from the same point of view as that in which the painter had placed himself. The straight line which connects the painter's eye with the centre of the thing depicted is already what Alberti will define as a centric ray: that is the axis of the visual pyramid whose apex coincides with vanishing point. So far we are still within the domain of vision, though it is even now most important to observe that for Brunelleschi it is essential that vision should have a single and constant point of view: hence the immobility and impartiality of the artist face to face with truth. But the painting must be looked at in a mirror; and this is not merely an artifice for making the spectator's point of view coincide with that of the painter. Alberti, who was certainly familiar with Brunelleschi's essays in perspective, in fact advises the

THE ARCHITECTURE OF BRUNELLESCHI

105

painter to make use of the mirror as a means of checking the artistic qualities of his painting. When he speaks of obtaining an effect of relief by the proportionate use of light and shade, Alberti advises: "and you will find in the mirror a good judge; for, as I know how things that are well painted may have great beauty in the mirror, so it is marvellous to see how every fault in painting shows itself more ugly in the mirror. So let the mirror correct the things which you have taken from nature." It is well known that the mirror reverses the image: if the image is unsymmetrical the mirror will make this defect more apparent, because it removes it from a position to which the eye has grown accustomed: if, on the contrary, the image is perfectly symmetrical, reversal will not be able to modify it. In other terms: if the painter has clearly determined and constantly maintained his point of view, the centric ray of the direct vision and that of the reflected vision will coincide, while otherwise they will diverge. The question, it will be seen, is one of symmetry and proportion. Another important point: Brunelleschi does not paint the sky. In the first panel he reflects it in a mirror-like surface, in the second he cuts out the wood so that the real sky can insert itself into the picture. His interest therefore is limited to things which as Alberti will say, occupy "a place": the sky does not occupy "a place" and cannot be reduced to measure or known "per comparatione." Since it cannot be represented, but only imitated, the artist forbears to paint it. The strict logic of the argument is unexceptionable: but it is the argument of an architect and not of a painter. If Filippo had wished to lay down a general law of vision, and one that would therefore be equally valid for the vision of landscape, he could not have failed to take the sky into account. He does not take it into account because his reasoning is related only to architecture, which is a finite space, that, by its own finitude or proportion, gives definition also to the spatial atmosphere in which it is immersed; and he forbears to paint the sky because buildings stand out against the real sky and not against a painted background. It remains to be seen what value Brunelleschi attributed to these exercises in perspective. It is clear that they had a demonstrative or, as we should say now, a polemical aim. Such polemics could only have been directed against the art of the late Trecento tradition, for one thing because these pictorial essays belong to the first phase of the Master's activity, between the last years of the fourteenth and the first of the succeeding century. To those painters who were intent only on decoration, Brunelleschi wished to demonstrate painting as an instrument of knowledge. One might even ask oneself whether, in that atmosphere of naturalistic propaganda, the happy invention of the silvery background which reflects the light of the physical heavens, may not perhaps imply a satirical and almost irreligious allusion to those shining backgrounds of fine gold in which the devout painters of the tradition sought to mirror the mystic
light of God.

The technical "miracle" of the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore (P1. 7a) has distracted critics not a little from the significance which that long and
strenuous constructive labour holds in the art of Brunelleschi. Since it is

GIULIOCARLOARGAN 106 known that Filippo had originally planned to make the dome in the form of a hemisphere, and that only on second thoughts did he decide to carry out the scheme laid down in Arnolfo's model, the problem of the dome would seem to be reduced to a mere question of technique: the method of vaulting it without scaffolding. Was it really technically impossible to realize Arnolfo's plan by the usual means? One may easily believe that, in those first decades of the Quattrocento, no artist would have dared to build vaulting on so vast a scale; it is indeed highly probable that throughout the Trecento, when decoration took precedence of construction, there may have been a falling-off in constructive skill. But it is impossible to believe that Arnolfo can have planned, and his successors raised as far as the drum, a building which the technical resources of the time did not permit them to roof over. What is more, Brunelleschi never even thought of using the traditional technique. From the outset he had in mind the idea of building the dome without scaffolding; he might give up the form he had first envisaged, but he would not give up his method of construction. Only a mistaken estimate of Brunelleschi's "classicism" has induced the belief that the spherical vault represented a formal ideal, later sacrificed to contingent needs. When we remember that the method of vaulting the dome without scaffolding had been deduced from the Roman circular domes, the terms of the question are reversed: the most reasonable hypothesis is that Filippo had thought first of a semi-circular vault because it was from such models that he had evolved his system, and that he returned later to Arnolfo's plan when he had become persuaded that the system might equally well be applied to domes with ribs and pointed arches. This method, which the conclusive researches of Sampaolesil have shown to be of Roman origin, consists in walling the dome with courses of bricks disposed in a herring-bone pattern. Brunelleschi's formal ideal did not end in the pattern of the pointed arch or of the single span: it was the ideal of a form capable of sustaining itself throughout the process of its own growth, of producing the force that sustains it, of disposing itself in space by virtue of its own interior structural coherence and vitality, by its natural proportionality, like that of "bones and members." The herring-bone method of construction is applied in Santa Maria del Fiore, on a much larger scale than it is in any of the ancient models, that is to say, to the measurements of the drum already constructed. The problem to set by Brunelleschi consisted therefore in reducing a gothic dimension prothe principle of self-support, that is of the autonomy of the portionthrough form in space. Thus the double vault of the dome finds a justification not only practical but figurative (in the actual words of Filippo "so that it may appear more enlarged and splendid"): the artist feels the need for establishing an exact relation between the form of the dome and the various properties of space that are summed up in it. In the interior the curvature of the surfaces
of the octagon, sums up and co-ordinates the various spatial trends of the
1 P. Sampaolesi, La Cupola di Santa Maria del Fiore ; il progetto, la costruzione, Istituto di Archeologia e Storia dell'Arte, Rome, 1941.

On sundry Brunelleschian problems, but

tained in Atti del o10 Congresso Nazionale di Storia dell'Architettura, held at Florence in 1936 and published by Sansoni in 1938.

particularly on the dome, see the studies con-

a-Brunelleschi,

Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence (pp. x05 ff.)

b-Lantern

8

a-Brunelleschi,

Pazzi Chapel, Florence (p. Io9)

Detail b-Brunelleschi, Florence (p. 109)

of Facade

of Pazzi

Chapel,

THE ARCHITECTURE OF BRUNELLESCHI

107

naves and the presbytery, as into a common horizon; on the exterior the ribs mark the limit or the juncture between the masses of the building and the circumambient space. If the effect of the dome is spatial, the process which leads to the definition of space is a constructive process. But this constructive because its acts are no longer labour differs from the mediaeval mechanica but determined by reason: the coherence of these acts repeated by tradition, must there be referred to a rational principle. Manetti says that in Rome Brunelleschi "saw the ancients' methods of building and their symmetry; and it seemed to him that he saw there very clearly a certain order, as of bones and members." It is not a question of the generic anthropomorphism that recurs, following on the traces of Vitruvius, in the treatise writers of the Renaissance: it is a question of rational discrimination between the elements that bear and the elements that are borne, and of their distribution according to order, that is according to symmetry and proportion. In Romanesque architecture as in Gothic, the artistic ideal to be realized, though by different figurative methods, is the effect of unlimited space. In the first, weight prevails over strain, and the effect of space depends upon mass; in the second, strain prevails over weight and the effect depends on linear tension. In either case the motive force is an energy that develops, and tends to develop towards the infinite, but which finds a check and a determination in matter. And matter is already form, because if matter has already a spiritual quality of its own as a divine creation, we cannot conceive of any form that transcends it. Form, force, matter make up an indivisible unity: force is not only relative to the hardness and the elasticity of matter, but also to the thickness, the extension, the flexion, the outline, the section of the element in which it is expressed. One may arrive at length at the sublimation of matter to such a point that a mass which physically presses on the ground can express an ascent; none the less, form remains a quality of matter, howbeit a supernatural one, a revelation of its inner spirituality. A Gothic cathedral tends in fact to be a compendium of all knowledge, that is of all reality; and this not only, as Mile has observed, in its decorative details but in its deepest structural intentions. Since reality is the infinite in terms of individual things, it is expressed in architecture by individual forces: Gothic architecture is in fact the architecture of the individualization of forces. Even the historical interest that attracts Brunelleschi to a study of the antique would have no justification if he had not sought in antique art for a standard of comparison in the criticism of tradition, that is for a means of freeing himself from a tradition that was still alive: history is always a criticism and an overcoming of tradition. Moreover, the very fact that the need was felt for a spatial definition which should include and resolve the whole problem of reality, necessarily presupposes the experience of Romanesque and Gothic spatiality as the expression of infinite reality; this was the matter which had to be reduced into measure.Brunelleschi's mental process in regard to tradition is already that which Marsilio Ficino will define in Platonic terms: "in corpore animus a singulis ad species, a specibus transit ad rationes"; or since we are dealing with architecture, from individual forces to classes and necessary to define their quantity and quality; thus it happens that we are
from classes to systems. To group several forces together into a class it is

GIULIOCARLOARGAN Io8 no longer dealing with forces in action or in development, such as strain and stress, but with those that are developed or in equilibrium, such as weight which has its exactly corresponding resistance. One might say, paraphrasing Alberti, that our "knowledge" of forces is reached by "comparison," that is by their reciprocal limitings and oppositions or by their reciprocal "proportioning" of each other. Only when the dramatic conflict of forces has been exhausted, only, that is, when a catharsis has been achieved, will architecture cease to be a fragment of reality, and become a representation of reality. And since experience-which here means the experience of Gothic architecture, in which the force of an element is in proportion to its "momento" or to its extension and duration-taught that the strength of a force is relative to a space, to constant forces there must therefore correspond constant intervals. This constancy of the relation between force and interval is the quality of the single span arch as opposed to the pointed one. To compare the single span with the pointed arch it was not necessary to go back to Vitruvius and to ancient monuments: Tuscan Romanesque architecture was enough. Yet the arcades of the Loggia degli Innocenti with their very wide and extended span, are undoubtedly much more akin to the arches of the Loggia della Signoria and even to the ogival arches of S. Maria Novella and S. Maria del Fiore than to those of the church of the SS. Apostoli or of Roman monuments. In the latter, indeed, the function of support is translated into an equilibrium between the masses of fullness and of emptiness; in the former the line has a value of its own as a supreme formal declaration of spatial infinity. This is the value to which Brunelleschi would give a clear definition, measuring the depth of the void by the actual outline of the arch. He reflects that in the single span arch, all points of the semicircle are equi-distant in relation to vanishing point, that is in relation to the apex of a half cone having its base within the semicircle itself: therefore the width of the curve is relative to the depth of the extension of the arch instead of to the weight which it sustains. The arch is therefore always an "intercisione," "primo piano," in a perspective progression which has its term at vanishing point; the curve of the arch, as a projection of depth on a plane surface, has thus the value of a horizon. is For Brunelleschi too, as for Donatello and Masaccio, Romanitas in the first instance "toscanita :" the definition of his own historical character begins with that of his own natural character. If, in determining the spatial value of the arch he relies on Tuscan Gothic architecture, in determining the spatial value of the plane he relies on the more remote practice of Tuscan Romanesque architecture. It would be interesting to know whether the on opinions expressed by Manetti in his excursus the decadence of architecture in the Middle Ages are entirely his own, or whether they go back, in part at least, to Brunelleschi: it is anyhow significant, that in certain Florentine Romanesque buildings he should see some reflection of classic splendour, and should attribute them, by an error full of meaning, to the Carolingian period, that is to the time of the most intense classical revival of the Middle Ages. Brunelleschi'sarchitecture preservesmore than one reminiscence of the marble inlays that adorned the walls of Florentine Romanesque churches, for example in the pure "scrittura" of space on the flat surface by means of grey pilasters and arcades on a white background. One might even venture to interpret the

THE ARCHITECTURE OF BRUNELLESCHI

og09

fagade of the Pazzi Chapel (P1.8a) as a development of the spatial theme of the Romanesque inlays. One might point out that the artist had arrived through the exercise of a subtle dialectic, at that absolute representation of space in the flat, by identifying linear and chromatic values; and that in this mutual identification, the linear element is purged of the material quality of the outline just as the chromatic element is purged of the material quality of the surface. The bean-pattern frieze, the grooved pilasters are far from being a simple reproduction of the antique: they are an alternation, almost a vibration, of light and shade (P1. 8b). Precisely because this plane generates light from the frequency of its relations of light and shade, it may be distinguished from the surface, which is always a defence in relation to an external source of light, and becomes identified with the totality of space. And perhaps this is the "intellectual" source of that light which in Piero della Francesca is no longer physical but spatial. The Florentine Romanesque inlays were undoubtedly a sign of a return to the fountain-head of the Byzantine tradition, perhaps even of an obstinate Tuscan resistance to the renewing tide of Lombard architecture. By means of these inlays an attempt was made to resolve the effect of space which Lombard architecture enclosed within the complex articulation of its masses, into chromatic terms on a flat surface.I Geometrical forms, while eliminating any modulation in colouristic relations within the design, employed colours in absolute terms of contrast on the surface: no spatial hypothesis is possible beyond a strict equation of the opposing terms of surface and depth. A most subtle and intimately Platonic process of thought warns the artist that if he thinks of space as possessing infinite depth, he will find it quite impossible to distinguish it from the surface: therefore the infinity of space cannot be a sensory perception or an "effect," but a conceptual representation or a "cause," such as are for instance the figures of geometry. In this mediaeval Tuscan Platonism there are already to be found the premises of the transcendental logic of a great German Platonist of the fifteenth century, Cusanus. For Brunelleschi the plane is the place on which there occurs the projection or definition of depth, not as an effect, but as pure value or geometric form. Therefore the place is a pure mental abstraction, the precondition for the representation of space. Alberti will translate this intuition ofBrunelleschi's into a formula: the surface is still matter, and as it were the outer skin of things, although it is the extreme limit of matter, its suture with space; instead the plane is a geometric entity, the "intersection" of the visual pyramid. In fact the plane in Brunelleschi's architecture is an "intersection" and not a surface; it is the place on to which the various spatial distances are projected, and on which the infinite dimensions of space are reduced to the three dimensions of perspective space. Since on the plane these distances cannot be valued as effects (for they would be chaotically superimposed one upon another) but only as measurements, the plane is the condition of their "cognitione per that comparatione" is to say of their proportionality.
1 For a fuller analysis of the formal values manica e Romanica, Florence, Nemi, 1936, and of Romanesque and Gothic architecture in L'Architetturaitaliana del Duecento e del Trecento, Tuscany I refer the reader to my two Florence, Nemi, 1937volumes, L'Architettura Protocristiana, Prero8

I o

GIULIO CARLO ARGAN

On the faqade of the Pazzi Chapel, for instance, every separate portion of the plane has its point of reference in a corresponding value of depth in the portico or the interior, and is a projection of this: hence the lack of an effective articulation of the parts which are elements of limitation and not elements of force, and the composition of the plane in squares and recesses (Pl. 9a). "All surfacesof a body that are simultaneously visible," Alberti explains, "will form a pyramid composed of as many lesser facets as there are surfaces in the thing seen." It is the principle of the homogeneity of space. But the principle of the homogeneity of space destroys that of the homogeneity of matter: for in order to think of space as homogenous, that is, as uninterrupted by the presence of bodies, it is necessary to think of those bodies as composed of space, that is as broken up into a succession of planes. Given this distinction between the plane, as a complete representation of space, and the surface, it is hard to accept the ingenious thesis of L. H. Heydenreich1 who makes a sharp distinction between the first and second phases of Brunelleschi's activity, and that of the Pfeilerkonstruktionen, between the moment of the Wandbauten or between the period when the wall is only a raumbegrenzende Schale and Funktion. The cause of this sudden that in which it arrives at a raumbildende stylistic evolution is said to be the journey to Rome, which Heydenreich
postpones to the years between 1432 and 1434; but the later researches of

Sampaolesi fix the date conclusively at a time previous to the beginning of work on the dome. In fact there is a complete coherence between the works of the first and second periods: the problem of Brunelleschi's artistic development does not so much consist in determining the date of the journey to Rome, as in forming a precise estimate of his relations with Donatello and Masaccio, which were undoubtedly close and reciprocal. According to Heydenreich's theory Brunelleschi's artistic development can be codified into the artist's progressive abandonment of building to a longitudinal plan, for building to a central plan, which is the classic scheme par excellence,the most rigorous and systematic application of the Vitruvian theory of the module. In reality, if one starts from the spatial premises of Brunelleschi the two plans cannot be so sharply differentiated: on the contrary, they complete each other by turns. And here again we find, as fundamental, the practice of Gothic architecture, which so often unites the two plans or imposes one upon the other. The dome of S. Maria del Fiore is itself conceived as a co-ordination or synthesis of the longitudinal depths of the naves and the stellate spaces of the octagon. Both the Sacristy of S. Lorenzo and the Pazzi Chapel are typical examples of the synthesis between a longitudinal plan and a central plan. In the Pazzi Chapel (P1. 9b), for instance, the simple tracing of an entablature and an arcade on the plane carries the depth of the squared apse on to the longitudinal walls: in the same way the depth of the windows opening to the front is graphically repeated between the sunk pilasters. Every plane has therefore the same
"content" of space. This solution is perfectly logical, because strictly speaking a figure in plane geometry is no less representative of space than a figure in solid geometry: indeed the hemispherical dome has the same function of
1 L. H. Heydenreich, "Spatwerke Brunel- lungen, 1931. Kunstsammleschis," Jahrbuchder Preussischen

9

a-Brunelleschi, (p. II o)

Portico

of Pazzi

Chapel,

Florence

b-Brunelleschi,

Interior of Pazzi Chapel, Florence (p. I Io)

10

a-Brunelleschi, San Lorenzo, Florence (p.

112)

b-Interior of San Lorenzo (detail) (p. I112)

THE ARCHITECTURE OF BRUNELLESCHI

III

summing up and concluding the contrasts between actual depth and depth graphically represented. Architecture, therefore, is not an abstract and symbolic representation of naturalistic space; on the contrary it is the material quality of the mural construction which is transformed into space by the rationality of the constructive process. In other terms, it is the space implicit in the construction as an "effect," which is transformed into space-the "cause" of architecture. Space, as pure representation, has therefore a cathartic value as regards the realistic, dramatic, struggle between force and of matter, that is as regards the mechanics the construction. But the problem remains substantially unchanged when one passes from these centralized longitudinal constructions to a genuine centralized construction, the unfinished Rotonda degli Angeli.' The plan provided for an octagonal building, with pilasters and radial chapels. The end walls of the chapels were flat, the side walls hollowed out into niches. If Brunelleschi had imagined the building as the co-ordination of lesser concaves to the major concaves of the central space and of the dome, he would logically have developed the end walls of the chapels into niches too. Since these end walls

Plan and Section of S. Maria degli Angeli, Florence (From Marchini's reconstruction).

are flat, vanishing point will always fall on the plane, whatever the point of view: the extreme limit of space will always be a plane and not an atmospheric hollow. Hence one may deduce that the Rotonda degli Angeli is a centralized construction developed or adjusted according to a longitudinal vision; the very perspective curvature of the lateral niches of the chapels tends to resolve itself into a single vanishing point, to bring it into focus or centre it on the end plane. This is perhaps the culmination of the systematic
1 For a reconstruction of the original plan degli Angeli," Atti del Io Congresso .Aazionale see G. Marchini, "Un disegno di Giuliano di di Storia dell'Architettura, Florence, Sansoni, Sangallo riproducente l'alzato della Rotonda 1938, p. 147-

112

GIULIO CARLO ARGAN

search for a synthesisof the two spatial formulae tradition. Brunelleschi of knowsthat space is not an effect, but a cause or law alike of the central and of the longitudinalscheme: that is to say, he strivesto deduce a single law from the two differentspatial effects or the two essentialdata of the traditional phenomenologyof space.' It is indeedworthyof note that the plan of the lanternof the dome (P1.7b), one of the Master's last works, repeats almost exactly the plan of the Rotonda degli Angeli.2 When one considersthat the lantern is a structure opened and imposedin its completeness upon an intersectionof planes with a commonsource,one may easily concludethat the problemof the Rotonda is not one of co-ordinatedgravitationround a central axis, but one of the of disintegration massinto a complexof intersectingplanes: not the problem of the mass that containsspace, but that of space which penetratesand dissolvesthe mass. Such, in fact, is the functionof the lanternin relationto the to of dome: the buttresses the lantern,which correspond the ribsof the dome, the rotation of the mass in infinite space: and in that possibilityof suggest rotationis made clear the single end to which all the spatial elementsof the relations,may be reduced. As the dome probuilding,in their proportional the the mass of the building, so the lantern "proportions" mass of portions the dome to the infinity of space. The high and narrow windows of the lantern accentuate the evidence of this pure intersectionof planes, and together with the niches hollowed out in the buttresses,and those of the colonnade placed at the base of the drum, balance, by their concavity, the dilatationof the dome: so that throughthis belatedrevisionit emergesindeed "enlarged"to the utmostlimits of space. A relationsimilarto that betweenthe Pazzi Chapeland the Rotondadegli Angeli may also be pointedout betweenthe two great basilicalconstructions: San Lorenzowith the simpleplan of the Latin crossand Santo Spiritowhere the colonnadesare also developedalong the walls of the transeptand of the presbytery.In San Lorenzo(P1.Ioa,b) the ratioof the archof the side chapels
1 On this point it is important to note the contrast drawn by Panofsky ("Die Perspektive als symbolische Form") between the scenography of Vitruvius as a winkelperspektivische Konstruktion, and central perspective which assumes the scene to be depicted on a plane instead of on a concave surface. Scenography finds its typical expression in the centralized plan (omnium linearum ad circini centrum responsus). Therefore classical art and thought of space was eine reine Kdrperkunst as "aggregato" (cf. Cassirer, op. cit., p. 285). The distinction between scenography and perspective corresponds to the distinction between perspectiva communis and perspectiva artificialis, drawn in 1505 by Jean Pdlerin and immediately seized upon by Diirer (see J. von Schlosser, Die Kunstliteratur, Schroll, Vienna, 1924, p. 227). This distinction is not maintained by the Italian theorists who regard beauty as immanent in nature; in the

northern theorists, on the contrary, beauty, as a pure abstraction, transcends nature. Hence it is legitimate to seek for the previous history of central perspective in Gothic Art with its tendency to the infinite prolongation of its lines (see besides Panofsky, op. cit., G. I. Kern, "Die Entwicklung der zentral-perspektivischen Konstruktion in der Europiischen Malerei von der Spdtantike bis zur Mitte des XV Jahrhunderts," Forschungenu. Fortschritte, 1937): it is a search which must, however, resolve itself into demonstrating that the artists of the early I5th century, especially Brunelleschi, must have had a full understanding of Gothic art. treats at length of the 2Heydenreich Rotonda degli Angeli, the lantern, and the exedra of the dome in his highly important essay on the later work of Brunelleschi in Jahrbuch der Preussischen Kunstsammlungen, 1931.

THE ARCHITECTURE OF BRUNELLESCHI

I13

to the arch of the naves is as 3 to 5; therefore the two arches have a common vanishing point and are two succeeding sections of the same visual pyramid. Thus the depth of the chapels is transmitted and resolved through the brick vaulting of the extension into the arches of the central nave. The three walls of the small chapels are framed by strongly modelled cornices: thus the walls fall into the background in three directions, and the value of depth which cannot be developed within such small dimensions is condensed into the modelling of the cornices. In fact, if one imagines a depth divided into equal spaces, it is clear that, as we increase our distance, the spaces between member and member become, when seen in perspective, thicker and closer: by making the modelling of the members more complex, that is, by implicating the intervals or distances with the quality of the plastic objects, one will obtain, in the actual form of the disposal of the members the representation of unplumbable depth. And how easy it is to see, and how easy it would be to illustrate with precise examples, the same process at work in the low relief of Donatello. The succession of spaces which is projected into the arcades of the central aisle is thus a typical perspective succession from the horizon (the end walls of the chapels) to the foreground (the arch of the nave). In Santo Spirito (P1. I I) the ratio between the arch of the chapels and that of the nave is of i to i : and the chapels are reduced to the concavity of niches. So the lateral spaces are not graduated perspectively, but directly inserted and articulated into the arches of the nave. Every column of the nave, to which there corresponds a half-column in the side aisle, thus stands out in its plastic form, from the concavity of two contiguous niches. Not the parallel planes of the centre aisle, but the plastic succession of arches and columns sums up the space of the side aisles and of the chapels. In fact, if the artist in San Lorenzo has given distinct sources of light to the centre aisle and the side aisles, if, that is, he conceived them as distinct and co-ordinated spatial entities, in Santo Spirito, the side aisles have no source of light in themselves, because their spaces constitute a single plastic organism with the colonnades of the centre aisle. If in San Lorenzo the axis of the centre aisle was simply an axis of symmetry for the proportional distribution of spatial intervals, in Santo Spirito it is the ground plan of the "centralized" vision. Space is no longer graphically described in geometrical forms, but realized in the proportionsmetrical, chiaroscural and luminous-of plastic form. So the column itself acquires value as a member; it is no longer the cesura placed between successive spatial intervals, but-as Alberti would say-a thing that occupies "a place." In its proportions, or in the plastic quality of its form it resolves all the "accidents" of stress: its value in architecture henceforth is that of a protagonist of space, as is that of the human form in painting and sculpture. The relation between the emergence of the columns and the concavity of the niches in Santo Spirito is in fact, plastically and luministically, a typically Masacciesque relation. Niches are thus the spatial Leitmotifof the later works of Brunelleschi. void in opposition to a mass of fullness. In Santo Spirito a window breaks the continuity of the chiaroscuro of the curved surface: the niches in the butBut it is not a question of chiaroscural or atmospheric values, of a mass of

114

GIULIO

CARLO ARGAN

tresses of the lantern and those in the Rotonda are also open so as to avoid a pictorial effect of atmosphere. If, in fact, the spatial interval between two members is plastically expressed in the actual modelling of the members the space enclosed between those two cannot be indefinite: the curve of the niche gives a sense of indefinite space, of something beyond the horizon, of the sky. In this sense it is a development of the conception of the plane as a representation of space, that is as a synthesis of depth and surface. It is clear that a complete representation of space cannot admit a distinction between the space internal and the space external to the building: hence that reciprocal integration of internal and external which we have already noted in the Pazzi Chapel, which was provided for in the original plan of Santo Spirito, which is fully realized in the open architecture of the lantern and which is, above all, the central problem in the long constructive meditations on the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore. The building is now conceived as a pure structure which inserts itself into empiric spatiality and proportions it, or reduces it to perspective space: like early exercises in painting, the building is an instrument of knowledge, the instrument that creates perspective. In more general terms, the building is the instrument which, through the rationality of its process of construction, transforms a confused and unlimited reality into clear and ordered nature. By this same process the mediaeval mechanica, which had reached its loftiest expression in the free of forces in infinite spatiality, becomes ars liberalis. play At this point there arises the problem, the analysis of which is precluded by the limits of this study, of the value of modelling in the architectonic members of Brunelleschi: that is of the value of design as an expression of perspective space, and in general as a spatial calligraphy or language. If the framework is in substance, no other than a "spatial object" or a boundary (an edge, as Alberti will say d proposof contour in painting) of the surface, which gradually incorporates with itself and realizes in plastic terms all the various spatial positions of that surface, we can affirm that Brunelleschi'ssearch for the "bones and members" is the true historical basis of Quattrocento design: that is of the line (think of Andrea del Castagno and Pollaiulo) which, in the outline of a body-and of a body in motion, that is with its forces at their utmost tension-implies the whole of space. That is why Brunelleschi's architecture, confronting the problem of the figurative tradition in all its aspects, is at once architecture, painting and sculpture: that is to say, it resolves the mechanica of the particular technical traditions into a unitary conception of art. From this moment art, which considers itself as a cognitive activity, can no longer tolerate a classification of its forms according to the quality of manual labour involved in them or according to their traditional range of expressiveness. The discussionswhich follow in the treatises of the Renaissance on the qualities peculiar to the various arts will tend not so much to classify them, as to relate them in order of merit to a common ideal of art. This also explains why Brunelleschi's references to the art of the Gothic tradition become more frequent in the last period of his activity, in other words with the increase of his figurative experience; the case of Santo Spirito is typical, since it is certainly the most "classical" of Brunelleschi's constructional ideas and is yet, at the same time, the most significant fruit of the artist's meditations on the

11

a-Brunelleschi,

San Spirito, Florence (p. II3)

b-Interior of San Spirito (detail) (p. I I3)

c-Interior of San Spirito (detail) (p. I 13)

Sacrifice a-Ghiberti, Florence (p. II6)

of Abraham,

Bargello,

Sacrifice of Abraham, Bargello, b-Brunelleschi, Florence (p. I15)

David, c-Donatello, Florence (p. I19)

Bargello,

d-Donatello,

Herod's Feast, S. Giovanni, Siena (p. 117)

THE ARCHITECTURE OF BRUNELLESCHI

I15

most recent tradition of Tuscan architecture: the Cathedral of Orvieto, and as Salmi has pointed out, the Cathedral of Siena.' Like every process of historical understanding, or, which is the same, of critical reflection, the idea of perspective, the more it is clarified and developed in the mind of the artist, the more it enlarges that mind to take in new experience. The infinite world of reality which the art and thought of the Middle Ages had discovered and illumined by the light of grace,- that whole world in which the Trecento had beheld the course of man's struggle for spiritual salvation, could only have been eliminated by the substitution of an arid conceptual system; from whence would have emerged not a Renaissance but a darker Middle Age. It is in the Trecento that line, which in the Byzantine tradition had been pure arabesque or a boundary between zones of colour, frees itself to take on an intense descriptive value and to become the outline of things animated by an eternal rhythm of movement, the very rhythm of their passing and vanishing in the continuity of time. In architecture, line describes the flow of forces, as in painting and sculpture it describes the flow of feelings. It is this line which, through the spatial abstraction of Brunelleschi, becomes design in the art of the Renaissance. The line is a quality of the thing; it belongs to and characterizes it. Design is a quality of space, as the supreme synthesis or cause of things. That is why Alberti points out that line should not separate (or we shall fall back into the world of individual things) but should join or give proportion. Design is the framework, the articulation, the structure of space. The process that leads from reality or spatial infinity to perspective, and from perspective to design, is precisely that which Marsilio proclaims as proper to the animusin corpore (and the artist is in fact animusin in corpore the highest sense): a progress from individual things to species and from species to rationes. Design, which Alberti identifies with the Platonic idea, is in fact the supreme ratio.2 III Since man too is, by his origins, a portion of reality, the rational process of space is not applicable to external reality alone; it is the very process of consciousness and is therefore valid for the reality in which human life consists, for the world of passion and sentiment. We propose to point out briefly the ethical impulse behind this process of knowledge. Manetti, speaking of the relief submitted by Brunelleschi in the competition for the Baptistery doors (P1. I2b), observes that everyone was amazed by the force and freedom of the "attitudes": "the attitude of Abraham, the attitude of the finger beneath his chin, his readiness," and that of the angel "the way in which he takes his hand" etc. In this relief "there is no member that is not instinct with spirit." He goes on to praise Filippo for having finished his
Spirito," Atti del Io Congressodi Storia dell'Ar- Venturi, Storia della Critica d'Arte, Florence, chitettura, Florence, 1938, p. 159. 1945, PP. 128 ff.

1M. Salmi, "Note sulla chiesa di S. "Idea" cf. Panofsky, Idea and Lionello

2 For the development of design as an

i16

GIULIO CARLO ARGAN

story in a short time "because he was strong in the exercise of his art" while Ghiberti "did many times destroy and remake his, both as a whole and in parts" and completed his work "in a great while." Here are two opposite methods and two opposite results. Ghiberti proceeds slowly, perfecting the details, Filippo executes swiftly and confidently: in the former, ideation and execution are inseparable and develop side by side, each furthering the other, in the latter, they are distinct and successive moments. Lorenzo is the man of tradition, and the source of his inspiration is in his own labour as a craftsman: Filippo is the modern man of will who first plans and decides and then executes. The result appears in the vital force of the "attitudes," the energy of the actions, the intensity ("spirito") of every part: Abraham has decided on the sacrifice and undertakes it without hesitation, but the will of the angel is in conflict with his will. In Ghiberti's relief (P1. 12a), on the contrary, Abraham's action is hesitant; it does not express a decision, but only a wavering intention: he seems to be delaying in order to await the arrival of the angel who is still far off in heaven. The time of the drama is ill-defined because the space is ill-defined. The rock and the body of Isaac are inclined in opposite directions: the oblique spur of rock separates the group of the sacrifice from that of the servants with the ass. These two distinct zones correspond to different times: the anecdote of the servants postpones the imminence of the drama. In Brunelleschi's relief the line is single because the space is single. From the two stooping servants at the bottom, the composition rises into a pyramid whose apex coincides with the most dramatic moment, the hand of the angel which grasps the arm of Abraham. The movement, too, is single: the tension of Abraham's body has its release in the figure of the servant drinking, and the contortion of Isaac's body is the culminating point of the rhythm of angles that begins in the figure of the servant who is extracting a thorn from his foot. A single concatenated movement, like a swift play of light, simultaneously expresses both movements: Abraham about to strike and the angel stopping him. The group of servants with the ass is no longer anecdotal; from that foreground the dramatic representation develops, with lightning force, up to the final gesture. If the problem of the definition of space is inseparable from that of the artistic development of the Master, we must conclude, given the date of this relief, that the first postulates of perspective are laid down in it. One of these is the reduction of narrative to drama, of temporal succession to the unity of place, of the evocation to the representation of an action. The relief astounded its contemporaries by what we should nowadays call its violent realism. In point of fact the novelty of the work lies in its strongly marked archaic accent. The conventional rhythms of line and of delicate chiaroscuro are broken so as to give place to a hard cutting of planes to form masses of alternating light and shade. This modelling and the force and concatenation of the movements are clear indications: Filippo, passing over the Trecentesque tradition, had sought his dramatic sources in Giovanni Pisano: the angel's gesture itself, to quote only the dramatic climax of the scene, has its precedent in the Last Judgment of the Pisano pulpit. But in Giovanni Pisano the rhythm had been swift, increasing, in continual tension: here the moments of the story are distinguished and individualized, but are seen

THE ARCHITECTURE OF BRUNELLESCHI

117

simultaneously in their final resolution. The principle of "intersection", if we are not mistaken, was applied to time before it was applied to space, unless indeed the new idea of space is a consequence of that sudden arrestation of time. The sculpture of Donatello is undoubtedly the record of a new mode of conceiving the dramatic quality of life. In Rome, Filippo, and Donatello together sought out and measured the relics of Roman Art, but Donatello, says his biographer, "never opened his eyes to architecture." Nor did Filippo trouble to initiate him into it, as though "he saw that Donato had no aptitude therein." Vasari, in his turn, records that Filippo blamed his friend for representing the crucified Christ in the form of a peasant. Filippo, who had been thought too much of a realist by the judges in the competition, found that Donatello sometimes carried realism to excess. Donatello's world is in fact the world of feeling and of drama, the world of pure action: in his sculpture a popular Tuscan ethosis exalted to the level of the classical epos. The passage of Manetti warns us, if such a warning is necessary, that Donatello, who was of anything but a speculative temperament, did not start from theoretic premises: yet he is undoubtedly the first artist to construct a figured representation perspectively. Oertell believes that he can place the first determination of vanishing point in the relief of St. George and the Dragon, dated about 1416. We instead, are concerned to show that in this relief the receding planes of the cave and the portico, by contracting space, cause the flattened masses of the horse and its rider to stand out with an effect of plastic emergence. Perspective has therefore a value of contrast, as opposed to that which it holds, for example, in the painting of Masolino, where it serves as guide to the rhythmic alignment of the figures. It proportions both space and figures, contrasting the figure with space, or, since the figure is in the foreground, contrasting surface and depth. A more precise construction with central perspective may be found in the relief of Herod's Feast, which can be dated between 1425 and 1427 (P1. I d). Vanishing point is clearly distinguished in the middle of the central arcade, and coincides with the elbow of the viol-player; the architraves, the pilasters, the flight of steps ascending on the right, the ends of the beams set into the pilasters all concur exactly at that point and determine an absolute unity of space. Nor has this architecture a generic function as a spatial site: it is a complex, yet broken structure, that enters into the life of the action, distinguishes its episodes, and even, by its air of antique ruin, plays its part in the pathos of the scene. In this, on the other hand, it is certainly possible to distinguish various stages of the narrative (the dance, the presentation of the severed head, the different emotional reactions of the spectators); but the action, in that single and co-active space, is itself single and its various narrative phases, occurring in the same time and in the same space, become
a clash of passions in action. The clash of passions is expressed by the sharp divergences of the figures which leave an empty space in the centre. The figures move along intersecting paths; they do not rest on predetermined planes, but by their movement create opposing planes, which means that they
I R. Oertel, "Die Friihwerke des Masac- I933cio," Marburger Jahrbuch Kunstwissenschaft, far

Ii8

GIULIO CARLO ARGAN

define space in its three dimensions. Gothic rhythm dissolved the figure into the limitless space of the background; here Salome's legs indicate a rotatory movement in a direction opposite to that of the movement of the arms and bust, and the soldier presenting the charger is constructed on two planes at right angles to each other which make a sharp angle on the perpendicular that falls from the shoulders to the knee. The architecture which is developed towards the centre in extended frontal planes, grows thick with columns and pilasters at the sides, which means that it multiplies spatial suggestions in relation to the mass of the figures that crowd to left and right. Space does not contain these things, it is the things which by their proportional equilibrium or, in this case, the figures by the individual character of their movements, which define space. Light itself in this enclosed space, circumscribed within the limits of an action, can no longer break in from an external source; it, too, is a quality of things which is broken up into spatial planes; and in the opposition of those planes it too is dissolved into contrasting zones of light and shade. It is no longer light that produces light and shade, for it is produced by the intensity of that contrast, that is, it is inherent in the plastic fact, or in form. At this point we may legitimately ask whether this conception of space as something which is not reproduced by the work of art but as something which the work of art itself disposes and realizes, had been reached by Donatello independently or through the medium of Brunelleschi. In the former case the similarity of the results obtained would be almost inexplicable; in the latter the analogy between the results might suggest the hypothesis that Brunelleschi had at some time formulated a general theory of vision and that Donatello had subordinated his own artistic activity to this theoretic discipleship. Since perspective is not simply a theory, but is the essence of the architecture of Brunelleschi, the Brunelleschi-Donatello relationship, which certainly exists, is a figurative relationship. In Herod's Feast the masses of the figures cluster along the sides of the central space, just as in Santo Spirito the spaces of the side aisles and chapels are resolved into the void of the centre aisle; the whole scene is envisaged as a succession of parallel "intersections" which are projected on to the foreground; space, as a comprehensive void, annuls itself by implicating itself with the modelling of the figures, just as it does by implicating itself with the modelling of the members in the architecture of Filippo. It is perhaps the first figured work in which perspective is assumed not as a law, but as a value in the representation; and the hypothesis that this represents the point of contact between Brunelleschi's architecture and the now imminent painting of Masaccio is not unreasonable. What is the special pathos, the special dramatic exigency that sees in perspective representation the condition needful for its realization? What is the motive behind this translation of the phases of the narrative from time to space, in such a way that the importance and the function of each figure in the action is determined by its spatial situation, or rather by the greater or less vigour of its movements as creators of space? It has already been pointed out that this dramatic necessity corresponds to a moral conception which distinguishes decision from relative activity, and the immediate and complete fulfilment of

THE ARCHITECTURE OF BRUNELLESCHI

I19

the one recognizes also the rational and moral validity of the other. To make a fully mature decision means making clear to oneself the causes that lead one to act: it means therefore justifying one's action historically. In action, all causes remote and immediate, direct and indirect, are simultaneously brought into play in a mutual compensation or equilibrium which is already proportion in nuce:in action, emotional causes are already, in fact, realized or resolvedjust as, in Brunelleschi's architecture, all the forces are always realized or in equilibrium and never incomplete or in tension. Therefore, the action, as an effect which exhausts all causes, is always cathartic: it is representation par excellence.This explains why the sculpture of Donatello develops in a continuous crescendo of dramatic intensity: the more intense the dramatic action, the more full and complete will be the catharsis and the loftier will be the degree of universality or of classicality attained. It explains, too, why this dramatic quality can be realized equally in the pure movement of the figures almost without spatial elements (example-the reliefs on the pulpit of San Lorenzo) or in pure perspective abstraction almost free from figure movements (example-the tondiof the life of St. John in the sacristy of San Lorenzo). This moral conception is the basis of the typically Quattrocento idea of the hero as the protagonist of a drama, or a being in whom great physical pre-eminence, that is a fullness of sensory vitality, corresponds to a the clear consciousness and a steadfast will: this is that animusin corpore, knowledge of which is the first stage of the supreme knowledge which is that It will not then seem strange to seek in the most typical, the almost symbolical, delineation of the heroic ideal of the Quattrocento-the "David" of Donatello (P1. I2c)-a complete transposition, and almost a transubstantiation, of perspective space into the human form: the ideal origin of the naturalistic anthropomorphism of the Renaissance. In fact, in this statue, the delicate modelling does not cut across the movement in the anatomy of the figure, but resolves it into a linked balance of spatial allusion, of depth and emergence, which are all subsequently resolved on the plane of intersection. This is determined by the shaft of light, which descending from the brim of the hat, falls at a tangent to the figure, wavering over the smooth surfaces and barely touching the chief points of emergence, to terminate at the base in the brief, intense, pictorial episode of Goliath's head. This complete identification of space and light explains why the already noted crescendo of drama or intensity of action is also, in Donatello's sculptures, a crescendo of pictorial intensity, of vivid contrasts between light and dark. In the pure plasticity of the "David" there is already the promise of the plastic dissolution of the "Magdalene" in the Baptistery. Perspective is therefore the law upon which the composition of a historia is based. The theory of the historiaoccupies a large part of the second book of the Pitturaof Alberti: and the critics have too readily neglected this part, thinking it void of any positive figurative content. Thus they have come to refer Alberti's analysis of formal material to natural vision, when in reality this is concerned with the supreme aim of the artist: the composition of a historia. Alberti explicitly declares that the historiais composed of bodies, the bodies of members and the members of surfaces: figurative morphology
of the animus separatus.

12o

GIULIO

CARLO

ARGAN

and syntax, which he has previously explained, exist for the attainment of this literary aim. Beauty, it is true, is created by the composition of the surfaces, but beauty or perfection according to the ancient models, is not yet the historia.Although Alberti cites several examples of ancient historaeone gets the impression that he considers the historiaas a superseding of beauty in a moral sense, that is not as something pertaining to the memory of antiquity, but as a fact of the "modern" consciousness. To the practice of ancient art he adds the living practice of the art of Donatello and Masaccio. What are the ideal conditions of the "historia"? The standards which Alberti lays down in this matter correspond exactly to the theory of painting as intersection: intersection is the necessary condition of the literary dignity of the historia. It is true that Alberti, though he proclaims that he wishes to write as a painter, is a man of letters; it is also true that the painting and sculpture of the Quattrocento are not, in a strict sense, literary or humanistic; it is none the less important that criticism should feel the need of considering these formal questions on a plane of literary and humanistic dignity. The form does not attain this dignity by the quality of its "content," but by its own formal quality or by the way in which it resolves that content. In order that such a figured work may attain the value of a historia it is of the first importance, Alberti explains, that every figure should be individualized both in its physical conformation and in the attributes that are proper to it. The result of such individualization is variety, though variety should not be allowed to distract one from the central theme to be represented. The number of figures must be limited so that the historiadoes not degenerate into confusion: therefore the painter must distribute the full and the void in due proportion. This is the very condition of plastic form as the supreme value of proportion. The figures must have concordant movements, that is the action must take place at a single moment of time and space; the same movements must not be repeated by different figures, since every one has its special function. When he comes to movements Alberti does not forget that the painter can represent only what can be seen; the movements of the soul can therefore be expressed only through the actions and movements of the body, and the painter will only consider movements "which are made by changing place." It is therefore true of movements, considered as movements of the soul, just as it is true of things, that they exist in so far as they occupy "a place." These movements must next be developed in all directions; that is there can be no historia unless the action builds up the whole of space. Alberti further requires that in every historia one figure should introduce or comment on the action, or, in other words, should interpose between the spectator and the action a mental distance (which is the pre-condition of a catharsis) corresponding to the optical distance which perspective requires between the eye and the object, so that the latter may not invade the field of vision but instead may be proportioned by and resolved into space. The historia, therefore, is the typical and perfect product of ingegno: at once the culminating point and the moral justification of artistic creation. The historia,indeed, is an "invention" or a "fiction"; but only in the sense that it transposes the realistic chronicle of facts into the sphere of universal

THE ARCHITECTURE OF BRUNELLESCHI

121

ideas, and is thus a cathartic representation. The equivalence of "fiction" and "invention," while it does away with any suggestion of mimesis in the first term, and with any suggestion of the arbitrary in the second, clarifies the value of the term historia,which is not merely the record or exposition of an action, but the raising of it to an eternal, or, precisely an historical significance. It is impossible to overlook the analogy of this idea of the historia with the idea of ancient drama, which the culture of the Renaissance had inherited from Aristotle's Poetics. Tragedy is an action that acquires a universal value either by reason of the nobility and moral elevation of the contending persons, or because of the magnitude of the action brought about by a combination of the slowly marshalled forces of destiny; hidden purposes of the gods that are realized and take shape in the passions and actions of men. For this reason dramatic action takes on an exemplary moral value, not in a pedagogical or moralistic, but in a profoundly solemn sense. The historiais always exemplary or, more generally, allegorical (one may recall Alberti's description of the "Calumny of Apelles" on which Botticelli was to draw) by reason of its profound naturalistic content. All reality flows into the action, filling it and finding in it the act that manifests and reveals, that is, "creates," reality-though only perhaps through the mute and solemn suggestions of a few essential movements. Nature itself, in its loftiest manifestation, speaks and acts in dramatic action. In order therefore that the historiamay have its full value and that human actions should be stripped of all that is of merely occasional or anecdotal significance, they must be referred to the very origin of things, to the beginnings of space, to the cosmic genesis of light and shade. Only in this world which he creates and orders by his own act can man be fully himself. The problem of space as a dimension of action, or as the supreme demonstration of man's dominion over reality, is the problem (which still awaits a critical solution) of the painting of Masaccio.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful