Renaissance Art and Mathematical Perspective

Part 1: Early Attempts to Depict the Real World in Art

In the same year that Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was published in 1632, Rembrandt painted his famous "Anatomical Lecture"

-- graphically representing what physicians had learned from Renaissance artists -- that nature was accurately representable only by virtue of careful observation,

through anatomical dissection revealing the hidden structure underlying the human form.

Artists of the Middle Ages, lacking a theory of mathematical perspective, and more interested in depicting religious, spiritual truths rather than the real, physical world -- did not worry about whether the objects on this table

in an early 15th century version of the "Garden of Paradise" would fall off or not.

Even as Italians like Giotto began to show a greater sense of real space and form, lacking a theory of perspective made this view of Arezzo

look rather peculiar, certainly not a "realistic" view that, soon, with a mathematical theory of perspective, artists could easily achieve.

In fact, the first steps towards a new sense of artistic reality were taken early in the 15th century.

One of the earliest masters of the human form was Masaccio. In his "Expulsion from Paradise,"

painted about 1427 in Florence, you can easily see the results of careful observation of human anatomy. Masaccio's Adam reflects the underlying structure of skeletal frame and superimposed muscle, as does his fresco of "Peter Baptizing the Neophytes."

Go on to Part II: Vesalius and the Study of Human Form

Return to the Table of Contents.