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Leon Battista Alberti's little treatise On Painting (De Pictura), 1435, is one of the books that made modernity, and almost too short to be as significant as it is. It was to Alberti's knowledge the first book on painting; Alberti was a friend of Brunelleschi, who did the dome of the Cathedral of Florence, and the two of them together have a fair claim on having invented perspective. It is a book which resolutely avoids the philosophical questions about what is the basis of seeing, the scientific questions about the shape of the eye, in order to concentrate on the visual representation of forms: a book published in Italy in 1435 which never once mentions God. It came out in a dual edition, both in Latin and in Tuscan, and Alberti stated specifically that the reason for the vernacular edition was accessibility, for he wanted every painting student to be able to read it without a churchman's education. And read it they did. Michelangelo, da Vinci would not look remotely similar without Alberti, neither in their paintings nor, necessarily, in their lives, for Alberti implicitly defines the role of the painter in society in a way that began the long process of separation of humanist art from religious art. I've heard about On Painting for years, it's one of those books people assume you've read if you read Renaissance studies at all and also still a book people recommend to artists.

What has it got for a reader now? )


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March 2017

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