Book Series Techne, vol. 1

Perspective as Practice

Renaissance Cultures of Optics

Sven Dupré (ed)

  • Pages: 512 p.
  • Size:178 x 254 mm
  • Illustrations:143 b/w, 46 col., 2 maps b/w
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2019

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-58107-1
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-58145-3
  • E-book
  • Available

This book is about the development of optics and perspective between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries.


“This excellent collection of essays is about the development of optics and perspective between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries, bringing together knowledgeable scholars from different fields within this area of research (…)  This edition does offer a generous array of new “perspectives” and devotes a special appendix with coloured pictures at the end of the book. This well-illustrated compilation is divided into three broad sections.” (Ingrid Leonie Severin, dans Histara, 29/07/2020)

“In conclusion, the volume can be highly recommended to readers from all areas of history of science, technology and art, whether or not specifically interested in the history of perspective, as it provides innovative and critical access to the multiform Renaissance cultures of optics and a wealth of material and ideas for new research.” (Arianna Borrelli, in NUNCIUS, 35, 2020, p. 447)


Sven Dupré is Professor of History of Art, Science and Technology at Utrecht University and the University of Amsterdam. He directs the ARTECHNE project ‘Technique in the Arts: Concepts, Practices, Expertise, 1500-1950’, supported by a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant. Recent publications include Gems in the Early Modern World: Materials, Knowledge and Global Trade, 1450-1800 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), Knowledge and Discernment in the Early Modern Arts (Routledge, 2017), and Early Modern Color Worlds (Brill, 2016).


This book is about the development of optics and perspective between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. The point of departure of this book is the recognition of the polysemy of perspective, that is, the plurality of meanings of perspective. To bring forward the polysemy of perspective, this book explores the history of perspectiva in terms of practices, a conglomerate of material, social, literary and reproductive practices, through which knowledge claims in perspective were produced, promoted, legitimated and circulated in and through a variety of sites and institutions. The ways optical knowledge was used by different groups in different places (such as the university classroom, the anatomist’s dissection table, the goldsmith’s workshop, and the astronomer’s observatory) defined the meanings of Renaissance perspective. As this period was characterized by widespread ‘optical literacy’, perspective was defined in different ways in different places and sites by various groups of practitioners. Most interestingly, sites such as the theatre, the instrument maker’s workshop and the courtly garden were home to practices of perspective which have remained on the margin, or even completely invisible, in the historiographies of optics and perspective. The book also brings out the differences between codifications of perspectiva and practice. There were a variety of non-Albertian constructions to create the illusion of space, and other types of optical knowledge were as important to artists as the geometry of perspective.


Sven Dupré, Introduction

I. Sites of Perspective

Marvin Trachtenberg, Perspective and Artistic Form: Optical Theory and Visual Culture from Giotto to Alberti

Marjolijn Bol, The Emerald and the Eye: On Sight and Light in the Artisan’s Workshop and the Scholar’s Study

Samuel Gessner, The Perspective of the Instrument Maker: The Planispheric Projection with Gemma Frisius and the Arsenius Workshop at Louvain

Tawrin Baker, Dissection, Instruction, and Debate: Visual Theory at the Anatomy Theatre in the Sixteenth Century

Jaime Cuenca, The Princely Point of View: Perspectival Scenery and Aristocratic Leisure in Early Modern Courts

Juliet Odgers, The Optical Construction of John Evelyn’s ‘Dyall Garden’ at Sayes Court

II. Writing on Perspective

Elaheh Kheirandish, Optics and Perspective in and beyond the Islamic Middle Ages: A Study of Transmission through Multidisciplinary Sources in Arabic and Persian

A. Mark Smith, The Roots and Routes of Optical Lore in the Later Middle Ages and Renaissance

Dominique Raynaud, A Hitherto Unknown Treatise on Shadows Referred to by Leonardo da Vinci

Sven Dupré, How-To Optics

Jose Calvo Lopez, Teaching, Creating, and Using Perspective in Sixteenth-Century Spain: The Architectural Notebook of Hernan Ruiz II

III. Drawing, Constructing, Painting

Filippo Camerota, Masaccio’s Elements of Painting: Geometrical Practice in the Trinity Fresco

Pietro Roccasecca, Divided into Similar Parts: Representation of Distance and Magnitude in Leon Battista Alberti’s De pictura

J.V. Field, The Use of Perspective in the Art of Piero della Francesca

Paul Hills, The Venetian Optics of Light and Geometry of Proportion

Georges Farhat, Constructed Optics and Topographic Perspective at the Grand Canal of Versailles