Monday, 28 April 2008

Leonardo’s aerial perspective device

The Exploratorium in San Francisco has a tagline that reads: The museum of science, art and human perception.

The relationships between art and science on one hand and art and human perception on the other hand are facinating subjects; so I was eager to see what was on show.

The museum is a large hall full of hands-on experiments. As an artist, I found the section on vision and perception interesting. We tend to forget how much subjectivity goes into vision and perception.

To demonstrate aerial perspective and how the size of the subject will shrink with distance, they have built the device described by Leonardo da Vinci in one of his notebooks. Here is Leonardo’s description:

"How to portray a place accurately

Obtain a piece of glass as large as half sheet of royal folio paper and fasten this securely in front of your eyes, that is, between your eye and the thing you want to portray. Next, position yourself with your eye at a distance of two-thirds of a braccio from the glass and fix your head with a device so that you cannot move it at all. Then close or cover one eye, and with the brush or a piece of finely ground red chalk, mark on the glass what you see beyond it. Then trace it on to paper from the glass, and pounce it onto paper of good quality, and paint it if it pleases you, making good use of aerial perspective."

Leonardo on Painting: Anthology of Writings by Leonardo Da Vinci with a Selection of Documents Relating to His Career as an Artist (Yale Nota Bene) – page 216)

I took a few photographs, so you can see what the actual device looks like.

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