Essay, Research Paper: Filippo Brunelleschi

Art

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of perspective in art finds its root in one man, Filippo Brunelleschi. Although
we don’t know for sure, it is likely that Brunelleschi also invented linear,
or scientific perspective. Donatello’s “The Feast of Herod” is the
earliest surviving example of scientific perspective, which is established
through the use of a “vanishing point”, an imaginary single point on the
page in which all the parallel lines meet. Donatello’s Feast of Herod was a
groundbreaking work by that day’s standards, and a complete failure in the
fulfillment of compositional requirements of traditional classical or medieval
standards. The focal point of the piece, the presentation of St. John’s head
to Herod, is in the far left corner, and the crowd watching is clustered into
the right corner. Upon examination of the action, however, Donatello’s
intention is clear; by placing the people in this way, the gesture and emotion
of the scene is more implicit and effective. It is also more clearly established
that the scene does not end at the focal point, it in fact continues off into
every direction, an impression more clearly made with his use of scientific
perspective. This “window” view into the scene was a radical step, and would
influence how the picture plane was to be seen from that point on. Another
important milestone in the history of perspective is Pietro Perudino’s “The
Delivery of the Keys”. Painted in 1482, this work employs a grave, symmetrical
structure, a tool he used to emphasize the importance of the scene being
represented: The authority of St. Peter as the first pope, and all of his
successors, rests on his having received the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven from
Christ himself. The onlookers are all rendered with powerfully individualized
faces. Equally powerful is the vast expanse of the almost surreal background.
The spatial clarity, established by the use of mathematically precise
perspective, is the influence of Brunelleschi. Andrea Mantegna was another 15th
century painter. He was a prodigy that rendered in paint with skill from the age
of 16 on. With the painting “St. James Led to His Execution” Mantegna
established himself as a person who wasn’t afraid to break with traditional
painting techniques, and adds a daring touch by painting from a ground up view
of the scene. This was used because the painting was hung so tha the bottom of
the painting was at the viewer’s eye level. Because of this the architecture
looms intimidatingly, and is made more convincing by his use of scientific
perspective.His desire for authenticity can be seen in every small detail,
including the Roman soldiers’ costumes. It even extends to the use of wet
drapery patterns, an invention of classical Greek sculpture that was then passed
onto the Romans. We can also find a reference to Donatello in Mantegna’s
rendering of the lean, tense bodies of the Roman soldiers. The intensity that
Mantegna establishes by using these techniques hardly fits the subject matter,
as the condemned saint, on the way to his execution, stops to bless a paralytic
man and command him to walk. The onlookers facial expressions and gesture hint
at how deeply this sight has stirred them. Mantegna has even painted a violent
scene erupting off to the right as the crowd becomes agitated. In writing this
paper, I assumed that you assigned the paintings in the Met because of their
accessibility to engineering students who may not have any art books. I knew of
these works as important stepping stones in the modern use of perspective, and I
felt the need to write.

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