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Perspective as Form and Medium

the Interplay of Proportion Systems
and Perspective


SolInvictus Press 2006

A Brief Foray into the Backgrounds
to the Renaissance
Jan Brueghel the Elder, Allegory of Sight
Sketch of the 'Tempio della Pittura' [temple of painting]
according to the "Idea del Tempio della Pittura" by Giovanni
Paolo Lomazzo, Milano 1584
[from RAI International Online – Rinascimento]
Artemisia Gentileschi,
Self-Portrait as the
Allegory of Painting
Frans van Mieris the Elder,
Pictura (An Allegory of Painting)
Benedetto Gennari,
Allegory of Painting
(the angel on the right holds the
Ouroboros, a snake swallowing
its own tail, symbol of the
cyclical Opus)
Now it must be seen that the stone thus brought under the artist's hand to
the beauty of form is beautiful not as stone—for so the crude block would be
as pleasant—but in virtue of the Form or Idea introduced by the art. This
form is not in the material; it is in the designer before ever it enters the
stone; and the artificer holds it not by his equipment of eyes and hands but
by his participation in his art. The beauty, therefore, exists in a far higher
state in the art; for it does not come over integrally into the work; that
original beauty is not transferred; what comes over is a derivation and a
minor: and even that shows itself upon the statue not integrally and with
entire realization of intention but only in so far as it has subdued the
resistance of the material.

God The Geometer,
Bible Moralisée, 1215
The Muse of Geometry,
woodcut from
Gregor Reisch,
Margarita philosophica
(Basel, 1536)
(Bernardino di
The Arts of the
(Bernardino di Betto),
construction based on circles
and armature of the rectangle
[diagrams by Charles Bouleau]
Pinturicchio (Bernardino di Betto)
[diagram by Charles Bouleau]
Geometric artifice

In occult thinking, symbol, meaning, and real object are blended. Symbol
participates in the nature of the referent either because it contains a part of it,
or because it reproduces the likenesses, or simply because it carries its
name, thus consenting the magical action to become explicit in the symbolic
object, provoking a mutation of the reality. This translation assumes an even
greater weight if it refers to a mathematic-geometric symbolism, considered
to be, within the context of the various cultures, capable of reproducing the
primary origin that underlies the apparent chaos of the actual…
…art came to be interpreted as a representation of ideal forms and became
the preferred path in the search for truth.

(Angela Pintore, "Musical Symbolism in the Works of Leon Battista Alberti:

from De re aedificatoria to the Rucellai Sepulchre", Nexus Network Journal,
vol. 6 no. 2 (Autumn 2004),
Dosso Dossi,
Allegory of
(with allusions
to the
investigation of
sound by
Pythagoras and
the origin of the
musical ratios)
Pythagoras performing vibration
experiments by hitting bells with a
Boethius manuscript, 'Boethius,
Pythagoras, Plato and Nichomachus,'
from ca. 1130 (Cambridge, University
Library Ii.3.12, fol. 61v)
This famous drawings of Pythagoras engaged in testing the
relationships of music and numbers date from a 1492 book
of Gaffurius: Theorica Musices, Milan, 1492.

As the story goes, Pythagoras was passing a blacksmith's forge one day when
he heard the sounds of the metal being hammered and realized that the
hammering made different notes. When he weighed the hammers, he discovered
that they were all ratios of each other.
Raffaello Sanzio The mathematical harmonies of
the universe, diagram of the
The School of Athens tablet held up for Pythagoras
[detail: Pythagoras]
"We shall therefore borrow all
our Rules for the Finishing our
Proportions, from the
Musicians, who are the greatest
Masters of this Sort of Numbers,
and from those Things wherein
Nature shows herself most
excellent and compleat."
Leon Battista Alberti (1407-1472)

The Nine Muses inspiring Arion,

Orpheus and Pythagoras under the
auspices of the Personified Air,
source of all Harmony, 13th century,
Public Library, Reims
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci and the use of Alberti’s musical ratios: diapason or double square
including a central square between two half squares [diagram by Charles Bouleau]
The form of perspective as
a medium for the creation of other forms.

Perspective [perspectiva ars "science of optics," from

perspicere "inspect, look through“] is an optical
transform that implies a certain projective geometry.
(Christopher W. Tyler)

Perspective allows us to use a geometrical method

- a visualization algorithm - for creating a visual
equivalent on a two dimensional surface.

Algorithm - a step-by-step
Visualization - the process of problem-solving procedure,
converting data into a geometric especially an established,
or graphic representation. recursive computational
procedure for solving a
problem in a finite number
of steps.
Botticelli and the illusion of perspective [diagram by Stefan Arteni]
Dierick Bouts and the illusion of perspective
[diagram by Stefan Arteni]
Domenico Ghirlandaio
[diagram by Stefan Arteni]
Paolo Uccello and the playful use of perspective [diagram by Stefan Arteni]
Perspective studies of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper

Leonardo da Vinci,
Alberti’s construction
( (

Jan Vermeer
[perspective diagram
by Stefan Arteni]
Jan Vermeer
[diagram by Stefan Arteni]
Jan Vermeer
[diagram by Stefan Arteni]
Alberti described in De pictura the method by which to create
a perspective projection, referred to as the construzione
legittima or the veil. One of the concerns of perspective
theoreticians such as Alberti and Piero della Francesca
(1410/20-92), was to show that, when projected onto the
perspective veil, proportional relationships in real or imaginary
space were 'translated', so to speak, into corresponding
proportional relationships on the two-dimensional plane.

(David A. Vila Domini, "The Diminution of the Classical

Column: “Visual Sensibility in Antiquity and the Renaissance",
Nexus Network Journal, vol. 5 no. 1 (Spring 2003),
True Grid

Barry Smith
Department of Philosophy, Center for Cognitive Science and
University at Buffalo, NY 14260, USA

Alberti hereby anticipates contemporary work on so-called

qualitative geometries.., which means: geometries based, not
on abstract mathematical points, but rather on finite regions.
Both his theory of perspective and his theory of the
organization of marks or signs to form an istoria are
formulated in qualitative-geometrical terms.
Girard Desargues: Perspective,
Conics and Projective Geometry
(text and diagram by Kevin Heng Ser Guan
Department of Physics
National University of Singapore)

Girard Desargues (1591 – 1661) is credited with unifying the theory of conics. A highly competent
and original mathematician, he conceived problems in three-dimensional terms…Desargues fully
appreciated the power of this method, and used it to give a projective treatment of
conics…Desargues wrote his most important work, the treatise on projective geometry, when he was
48. It was entitled “Rough draft for an essay on the results of taking plane sections of a cone”
(Brouillon proiect d’une atteinte aux evenemens des rencontres du cone avec un plan)…One of the
most important parts of his treatise can be viewed as a generalization of a theorem proved by Piero
della Francesca…Desargues’ theorem allowed a way of defining the pattern of division even when
the second line was not parallel to the first. In a sense, Desargues was generalizing perspective into
becoming a technique of use to mathematicians.

Diagram for Desargues’ proof of

the theorem that if we have six
points in involution, BDCGFH,
then their images under
projection from a point K onto
another line, bdcgfh, will also
be six points in involution.
Nicolas Poussin,
perspective as geometry:
perspective and musical ratio
constructs coincide
[diagrams by Charles Bouleau]
Nicolas Poussin
Perspective as geometry:
perspective embedded within a construct based on the rabatment of the shorter side
[diagram by Charles Bouleau]
Fibonacci (Leonardo Pisano)

Relationship between the Fibonacci sequence and the

Golden Rectangle [diagram by Alex Mabini ]
Fibonacci Form and Beyond
Louis H. Kauffman

Forma, Vol. 19 (No. 4), pp. 315-334, 2004

Abstract. This paper develops a context for the well-known Fibonacci

sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, ...) in terms of self-referential forms and
a basis for mathematics in terms of distinctions that is harmonious with
G. Spencer-Brown's Laws of Form and Heinz von Foerster's notion of
an eigenform. The paper begins with a new characterization of the
infinite decomposition of a rectangle into squares that is characteristic
of the golden rectangle. The paper discusses key reentry forms that
include the Fibonacci form, and the paper ends with a discussion of the
structure of the "Fibonacci anyons" a bit of mathematical physics that
relates to the quantum theory of the self-interaction of the marked state
of a distinction.
Vera W. de Spinadel
Let me introduce you to the Metallic Means Family (MMF). Their members have, among other
common characteristics, the property of carrying the name of a metal. Like the very well known
Golden Mean [φ] and its relatives, the Silver Mean [σAg], the Bronze Mean, the Copper Mean, the
Nickel Mean…Some of the relatives of the Golden Mean have been used by physicists in their latest
researches trying to analyze the behavior of non-linear dynamical systems in going from periodicity
to quasi-periodicity… Obviously, all of them are …a purely periodic continued fraction expansion.
The slowest converging one of all them is the Golden Mean, since all its denominators are the
smallest possible (ones). An elegant way of stating this result is

The Golden Mean is the most irrational of all irrational numbers.

The members of the MMF are intrinsically related with the onset from a periodic dynamics to a quasi-
periodic dynamics, with the transition from order to chaos and with time irreversibility, as proved by
Ilya Prigogine and M. S. El Naschie.

…the sequences based on the members of this family possess many additive properties and are
simultaneously geometric sequences, which is the reason why some of them were used as the basis
of a system of proportions in Design.

Golden mean τ [usually φ] = (1+√5)/2

Silver mean θ = 1 + √ 2
Bronze mean ψ = 1 + √3
Complexity and Chaos Theory in Art
by Jay Kappraff

G. Spencer Brown in his book Laws of Form has created a symbolic language
that expresses these ideas and is sensitive to them. Kauffman has extended
Spencer-Brown’s language to exhibit how a rich world of periodicities,
waveforms and interference phenomena is inherent in the simple act of
distinction, the making of a mark on a sheet of paper so as to distinguish
between self and non-self or in and out…There is nothing new about this idea
since our number system with all of its complexity is in fact derived from the
empty set. We conceptualize the empty set by framing nothing and then
throwing away the frame. The frame is the mark of distinction.

A mark of distinction separating inside from outside.

The Divine Proportion

Portrait of Luca Pacioli

by Jacopo de' Barbari

Pentagon, pentagram,
Pythagorean triangle, and
golden section
[diagram by Gyorgy Doczi]
Leonardo da Vinci,
page of studies and detail
of the proportions sketch
world view

Hildegard von Bingen,

the Trinity
world view

Hildegard von Bingen,

microcosmic man
The ‘Vitruvian’ man "De Harmonia Mundi
[circle, square and triangle symbolism] Totius", 1525,woodcut

homo ad circulum
[H. C. Agrippa,
De Philosophia
Occulta, Book II,
Ch. 27]

homo ad quadratum
[H. C. Agrippa,
De Philosophia
Occulta, Book II,
Ch. 27]

Hermeticism, astrology, analogy between man and Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian man
macrocosm [from Maurizio Elettrico,] [diagram from]
Albrecht Dürer,
anatomical proportions
André Derain’s Vitruvian man
Leonardo da Vinci,
Portrait of Isabella d‘Este
[diagram by Franz Gnaedinger]
Neoplatonic and hermetic esotericism

The so-called ‘Mantegna’ tarot cards

The occult connection

Marsilio Ficino, head of

Plato’s Academy at
Giovanni di Stefano, Hermes Trismegistus Florence, student
and two pupils, 1481-1485, marble intarsio on of neoplatonic
the floor of the Siena Duomo philosophy, the arts of
The study of numbers and ratios and the Hermetic Corpus
were another aspect of hermetic
Allegorical emblems

Prudence by Prudence by
Isaia da Pisa Domenico Guidi
Faith, from
Cesare Ripa, Iconologia

Pietro Mazzoni,
Faith and Charity, façade
of Palazzo Spada
Liberalità, from
Cesare Ripa, Iconologia
allegory of
zodiac and man

Limbourg Brothers,
Les Très Riches Heures du
Duc de Berry,
‘Anatomical Man’ as an analogy
between zodiac and
human body or microcosm as
reflection of the macrocosm
Astrological Star Signs on body,
1475 [The British Library]

Johannes de Ketham,
Fasciculus medicinae, 1491
Leonardo da Vinci
(Bernardino di Betto),
Allegory of Astrology
The wheel of fortune
Lorenzo Spirito,
"Wheel of Fortune with the Zodiac Sign of the
in Libro de la Ventura (Book of Fortune),
Milan: 1508
[The Library of Congress]
Mythology, astrology, allegory

Bronzino (Agnolo di
Cosimo di Mariano
Portrait of Cosimo I
de’ Medici as Orpheus Francesco del Cossa,
Allegory of April :
Triumph of Venus
Botticelli's La Primavera for which
Marsilio Ficino provided the program
Raffaello Sanzio,
Adam and Eve
Raffaello Sanzio,
Apollo and
Raffaello Sanzio,
Giulio Romano
[Giulio Pippi di Pietro
Palazzo del Te, Mantova
Giulio Romano (Giulio Pippi di Pietro de'Gianuzzi),
Giulio Romano (Giulio Pippi di Pietro de'Gianuzzi),
Rome, Palazzo Zuccari, Europa, before 1524
Giorgione (Giorgio da Castelfranco), The Four Elements in Concert
Tiziano Vecellio,
Jupiter and Antiope ( The Pardo Venus)
Veronese (Paolo Caliari),
Allegory of
the Liberal Arts
Veronese (Paolo Caliari),
Jupiter Smiting the Vices
Tintoretto (Jacopo
Peace, Concord
and Minerva
removing Mars
Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti), Danae
Annibale Carracci,
Palazzo Farnese,
Annibale Carracci, Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne, Palazzo Farnese, Rome
Annibale Carracci, Venus with Satyr and Cupids
Jan Vermeer,
The Astronomer
(perhaps an astrologer)
Evaristo Baschenis, Allegorical Still Life
Juan van der Hamen y León, Allegorical Still Life
Peter Paul Rubens, Venus, Cupid, Bacchus and Ceres
Peter Paul Rubens,
The Drunken Hercules
Francesco Colonna
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Poliphilo's Dream about the Strife of Love) Venice, 1499

"Like every real dream, the Hypnerotomachia is Janus-headed; it is a picture of the Middle Ages just beginning to
turn into modern times by way of the Renaissance - a transition between two eras, and therefore deeply interesting
to the world of today, which is still more transitional in character." C.G. Jung
Ovidian stories linked to allegorical
readings - pagan lore as historia poetica
defined as wrapping truths in obscurity
(obscuris vera involvens) - formed one of
the most popular subjects.

Ovidio metamorphoseos vulgare,

Venice, 1501
Illustration to the 4th Book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses –
Venus, Mars, Vulcanus , Virgil Solis, Edition 1581
Illustration to the 4th Book
of Ovid’s Metamorphoses –
Perseus and Andromeda,
Ferrando Bertelli, 1565

Illustration to the 4th Book

of Ovid’s Metamorphoses –
Perseus and Andromeda,
Johann Ulrich Krauss, Edition 1690
Illustration to the 6th Book of Ovid’s
Metamorphoses - Minerva and Arachne,
Edition: Lyon 1510
Illustration to the 6th Book of
Ovid’s Metamorphoses -
Minerva and Arachne,
Ludovico Dolce, 1558

Ouroboros is an ancient alchemy symbol depicting a snake or dragon

swallowing its own tail, constantly creating itself and forming a circle. It is
the Opus, the Wheel of Time - The Alchemy Wheel – and Francisco Varela
selected the Ouroboros as an emblem for autopoiesis
Horapollon, Orus Apollo,
édition J.Kerver, 1543
Autopoiesis—The process whereby an organization produces itself. An
autopoietic organization is an autonomous and self-maintaining unity which
contains component-producing processes. The components, through their
interaction, generate recursively the same network of processes which produced
Francisco Varela

(Girolamo Francesco
painter and alchemist
Image of Alchimia, the embodiment of Alchemy.
Woodcut published by Leonhard Thurneysser in 1574.
Thurneysser was a student of Paracelsus.
De alchimia, Leyden, 1526
calcination dissolution separation

S.Trismosin, Splendor Solis (1582),

Laboratory symbolism
conjunction fermentation distillation coagulation

The Studiolo of Francesco I de Medici
had as its principal theme the dynamic
relationship between the four
elements, the four seasons, and the
four temperaments.

A work from the Studiolo of Francesco I:

Giovanni Stradano (Jan Van der Straet),
Alchemy Laboratory
A work from the Studiolo of Francesco I:

Roman wall painting, a hypothetical

model for Vasari’s painting

Perseus and Andromeda,

by Giorgio Vasari
Painting as
cultural memory

Clio, muse of history.

Her symbols are
a laurel wreath and
a scroll.
Clio (Nuremberg, 1514)