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"On Painting" Summary and Analysis, Leon Battista Alberti

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"On Painting" Summary and Analysis, Leon Battista Alberti

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  • September 26, 2010
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On painting
Summary and Analysis
The selection from Leon Battista Alberti’s On painting is mainly divided into 5 paragraphs numbered 25 through 29. Just as the title suggests, the text deals with the art of painting and its virtues. It talks about the benefits painting offers to the artist and why they are valuable, as well as showing the importance a work of art gives to the object being painted. While referring to many examples in history, Alberti also compares painting to the other “crafts” and explains why it is more noble, as well as more enjoyable and self-satisfactory. To begin with, Alberti explains why painting is “worthy of all our attention and study,”(60) seeing as learning it might seem a difficult and tedious task. From the beginning, he is very explicit and forward about his opinion on painting. To Alberti, it holds a “diving power”(60) that can bring back the dead and immortalize them for all to be awed by the artist’s talent. In addition, he mentions how painting brings man closer to the gods and their holiness. He gives the examples of Cassandrus who trembled before the portrait of Alexander the Great as if he were alive in front of him, and Agesilaus who refused to let his ugly face be portrayed. Next, Alberti explains painting’s capacity to add to everything’s value. He gives the example of a simple metal which, after being handled by an artist, becomes more valuable than unworked silver. And to conclude this paragraph, Alberti tell the story of Zeuxis who gave his paintings away because he thought them to be priceless, and believed the artist to behave as “a god among mortals” (61). This last comment shows how Alberti idolizes painters and believes them to have godlike qualities. In the second paragraph, Aberti continues to compare painters to gods when he says that painters “feel themselves to be almost like the creator.”(61) He then goes on to say that among all the arts, painting is the most elite. Accordingly,...