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Chapter I: The Arrow in the Eye (page 1)

The Arrow in the Eye

here is a frightening detail in Andrea Mantegna's Archers Shooting at Saint Christopher (Figure 1.1a, 1.1b & 1.2) that shows a man who has just been shot through the eye with an arrow. We see the arrow in the eye as a metaphor for the art of perspective, in which the sight lines converge to enter the eye; we have reason to believe that Mantegna did so too.

Fig.1.1. Andrea Mantegna. Archers Shooting at Saint Christopher and Saint Christopher's Body Being Dragged Away after His Beheading. LEFT: (a) 1451-5. Fresco, Ovetari Chapel, Eremitani Church, Padua. RIGHT: (b) Copy. Collection du Musee Jacquemart-Andre, Paris.


Fig. 1.2 Andrea Mantegna. Archers Shooting at Saint Christopher (1451-5). Fresco, Ovetari Chapel, Eremitani Church, Padua.

Why would Mantegna want to incorporate a metaphor for the art of perspective into a fresco?

Primarily, he would want to because perspective played a central role among the intellectual and aesthetic concerns of Renaissance artists. Indeed, as we shall see, perspective has been thought to have many aesthetic functions in Renaissance painting. (In this book, we propose yet another, a deliberate discrepancy between the viewer's actual point of view and a virtual point of view experienced by the viewer on the basis of cues contained in the perspectival organization of the painting.)

The most obvious function of perspective was to rationalize the representation of space: With the advent of perspective, it became much easier to stage, as it were, elaborate group scenes organized in a spatially complex fashion. Compare the pre-perspectival architectural extravaganza to which Taddeo Gaddi was forced to resort in order to define the spatial locations of his figures (Figure 1.3) to the simplicity of means used by Piero della Francesca (Figure 1.4) to achieve a precise definition of relative spatial locations. Then, of course, perspective gave Renaissance artists the means to produce a compelling illusion of depth. We will come back to this illusion and the psychological research that elucidates it in Chapter 4.


Fig.1.3  Taddeo Gaddi, The Presentation of the Virgin (1332-3). Fresco. Baroncelli Chapel, Church of Santa Croce, Florence.

Fig. 1.4   Piero della Francesca, Flagellation (probably 1450s). Panel. Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Palazzo Ducale, Urbino.

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