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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:16

Linear Perspective: Brunelleschi's Experiment

Video transcript

according to philippo brunelleschi's biographer he stood just inside the main doors of the cathedral of florence when he conducted his first perspective experiment and that's where we're standing right now we're very close to it brunelleschi's experiment demonstrated that linear perspective could produce an incredibly realistic illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface so this notion that we can actually develop a system that would be relatively easy to follow but highly accurate that could translate the volumetric world that we move through through time onto a frozen two-dimensional surface is really an extraordinary achievement there's some discussion among scholars as to whether or not there was linear perspective in the ancient world but if there was it was lost and linear perspective was created at least for us in the modern world by brunelleschi in the 15th century around 1420 right and so some people say that brunelleschi rediscovered linear perspective in case the ancient greeks and romans had had it before him brunelleschi had gone to rome and had studied antiquity and some have hypothesized that he developed the basis for linear perspective in an attempt to be able to accurately portray the buildings that he was looking at that he was sketching that he was drawing it's certainly something that artists beginning really in the 1300s were creating forms they were creating human figures that were three-dimensional by using modeling and making the figures bulky and monumental then you had the challenge of putting those figures within a believable space giado and duccio had kind of approximated that space and began to create a kind of earthly setting for their figures but had not achieved perfect illusion of space for their figures to inhabit as the culture becomes increasingly analytical mathematical it's a trade-based culture this is a culture that in some ways may have demanded of its artists a kind of precision a kind of mathematical accuracy in its representation and brunelleschi delivers that so what does he do brunelleschi creates a perspectively accurate image of the baptistry and its surround right so bruno alaska develops a system with just a few essential elements and through these elements is able to construct accurate scientific one-point perspective they include a vanishing point which is at the viewer's horizon line as well as a series of orthogonals or illusionistically receding diagonals what brunowski then does is he paints or draws an image of the baptistry with linear perspective and puts a small hole in the center of it he takes that small drawing or painting puts a handle on it and holds it in front of his face but facing away from him he then takes a mirror and holds it in back of that now remember his painting has a small hole in it so he can see through it straight to the vanishing point so he's holding the mirror at arm's length and the actual painting with the hole in it right in front of him for his eye to look through right so you can see the painting's reflection in the mirror and if he pulls the mirror away he can see the actual baptistry and he can bring the mirror back to see the painting move the mirror away to see the actual baptistry and see if in fact those lines are well coordinated and it was a very convincing experiment what brunelleschi saw in the reflection of the painting looked exactly like the reality that was in front of him this would have the most profound effect on the history of western art virtually every painting in the western tradition after the 15th century is responding to linear perspective either adopting it or very consciously rejecting it for some reason and within a couple of decades after brunelleschi's discovery alberti the brilliant architect and theoretician writes a book called on painting in which he codifies brunelleschi's discovery and creates a manual for artists of how to use linear perspective and how to make great paintings you