Brunelleschi's Demonstration on the Principle of Perspective

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  • Topic: Filippo Brunelleschi, Florence, Renaissance
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Fillipo Brunelleschi was a renowned Italian artist, sculptor, engineer and architect of the Italian Renaissance. During the early stages of his architectural career, Brunelleschi made a rediscovery of the concepts and principles of one point linear perspective, which he used intensively and extensively for the ornamentation of his architectural ventures. Before Brunelleschi, others had understood the importance of perspective, but up until then, no one had succeeded in devising a mathematical formula for one point perspective. His discovery, use, and demonstration of one point linear perspective proved to be a major turning point in Renaissance art and architecture, and unbeknown to Brunelleschi, his achievements were to have a great impact on the Renaissance, and those who followed him. Perspective is defined as the method of representing threedimensional objects in recession on a two-dimensional surface in order to give the same impression of a relative position, size, or distance as the actual objects do when viewed from a particular point.1 Brunelleschi understood the importance of this concept, and desired to demonstrate how indispensable it could be. This essay will discuss the influences that played an instrumental part in Brunelleschi's achievements, additionally it will discuss how Brunelleschi first demonstrated his formula of linear perspective.

Fillipo Brunelleschi was the second of three children born in 1377, in Florence, Italy. His father Brunellesco Di Lippo worked as a public official, and his mother was Giuliana Spini. Brunelleschi's father Brunellesco had noticed his sons artistic ability from a very young age, and encouraged him to further his skills by writing, and using the abacus. In 1392, at the age of 15, Brunelleschi took up an apprenticeship as a goldsmith, where he learnt the principles of design. During this period Brunelleschi met Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, a medical doctor and merchant who taught him the principles of geometry. Toscanelli's teachings would later aid Brunelleschi in developing his groundbreaking mathematical formula for one point perspective. The next instrumental point in Brunelleschi's career came about in 1401, when he entered a competition to design the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery. Unfortunately for Brunelleschi he did not win, and after much disagreement between Brunelleschi and the judges, Brunelleschi withdrew from the competition, never to work in gold smithing again.2 Brunelleschi then left Florence for Rome with good friend Donatello, where he spent several years learning about Roman buildings, specifically focusing on their height and proportion. The skills Brunelleschi had learnt through his surveying of Roman architecture would later assist him in formulating his one point perspective theory.3 As King, R. quotes, Perspective drawing is, after all, similar to surveying in that both involve determining the 1. Quote taken from King, R. “Brunelleschi's Dome” (New York: Penguin Group, 2000), 34

2. This paraphrase is from the article by O'Connor, J. and Robertson, E. “Fillipo Brunelleschi”, School of mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews, Scotland (2002) 1 3. Paraphrase taken from King, R. “Brunelleschi's Dome” (New York: Penguin Group, 2000), 34-35

relative positions of three-dimensional objects for the purpose of protracting them on paper or canvas.4

Brunelleschi’s strength was his grounding in geometrical formulas, which he used extensively throughout his career. Basically, perspective was depicted as an aspect of pictorial representation of what met the eye, but nevertheless it was a geometrical formula behind a realistic illusion. Brunelleschi used these principles to create a mathematical formula for the optical pyramid or cone, and demonstrated how a large image could be reduced to scale and vice versa. Brunelleschi ground breaking discovery had set him apart...
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