Detail: Annunciation, c. 1440, Central panel, Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. no. 1982.
Working Group (2012-2014)

Perspective as Practice

This Working Group addressed the production and circulation of optical knowledge in workshop and design practices of the visual and decorative arts and (garden) architecture between the fourteenth and seventeenth century. Topics embraced include both the practical optical knowledge produced in the context of artists’ workshops and artists’ appropriation and use of the science of optics (perspectiva), which included questions of psychology, physiology, anatomy, physics, and mathematics, for the production of art and architecture, including gardens. It discussed the material practices of artists (as diverse as gardeners and goldsmiths) in imitating and representing the effects of light, creating the illusion of space and the shaping of landscape (from the use of paper and other instruments, also on real sites, to experimentation with the optical qualities of pigments and binding media). Other views throw light on artists’ reading of texts on optics and their possible use in the context of the workshop.

We saw this Working Group as a correction to the ways in which Erwin Panofsky’s Perspective as Symbolic Form—written more than 80 years ago—has shaped the historiography of perspective up until the present day, despite more recent important interventions by e.g., James Elkins and Hans Belting. Therefore, instead of seeking connections with worldviews and philosophies of space, this group took into account the polysemy of perspective associated with the practice of perspective. This brings out the variety of uses and different meanings of perspectiva—during the period between 1300 and 1700 and across different sites of artists’ appropriations of optical knowledge. By situating artists’ optical knowledge in workshop and design practices, we were attentive to a variety of constructions that create the illusion of space, and paid as much attention to other types of optical knowledge as to the geometry of perspective.