Page 1  ·  (  Page 2  )  ·  Page 3  ·  Page 4  ·  Page 5
Page 6  ·  Page 7
  « »
Chapter I: The Arrow in the Eye (page 2)

The Arrow in the Eye

Fig.1.5 Masaccio, Tribute Money (ca. 1425). Brancacci Chapel, Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence

In addition to rationalizing the representation of space and providing an illusion of depth, perspective was often used to draw the spectator's eye to the key figure or action in the painting.1 Take, for instance, Masaccio's The Tribute Money (Figure 1.5). The slanted lines representing the horizontal features of the building that recede into the distance, often called orthogonals because they represent lines in the scene that are orthogonal (Box 1.1) to the picture plane, converge at a point known as the vanishing point for this perspective construction (a concept explained in the next chapter). The vanishing point falls slightly to the right Christ's head, thus drawing attention to the central actor in the drama Masaccio has represented. In Piero della Francesca's Montefeltro altarpiece (Figure 1.6), the vanishing point coincides with the Madonna's left eye. In Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper (Figure 9.9), the vanishing point is centered upon Christ's head.


Fig 1.6 Piero della Francesca, Madonna and Child, Six Saints, Four Angels, and Duke Frederico II da Montefeltro (Brera altar-piece) (ca. 1472-4). Panel. Pinacoteca di Brera.

Fig 1.7 Domenico Veneziano, Martyrdom of Saint Lucy (ca. 1445). Panel. Gemäldegalerie, West Berlin

In other cases, such as Domenico Veneziano's (Figure Martyrdom of Saint Lucy), the vanishing point coincides with a central locus of the action rather than the head of the main figure: the hand of the executioner that has just plunged a dagger into Saint Lucy's throat. In Raphael's Dispute Concerning the Blessed Sacrament (Figure 1.8), the vanishing point coincides with the representation of the Host. In Raphael's School of Athens (Figure ) the vanishing lines converge to where the aging Plato is passing his accumulated knowledge to the young Aristotle.

Fig 1.8 Raphael, Dispute Concerning the Blessed Sacrament (1509). Fresco. Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican, Rome.


The meaning of orthogonal: Two intersecting straight lines, ι1 and ι2 are perpendicular if they form a right angle at their intersection. Consider a line ι1 that intersects a plane S at a point P, and suppose we drew a line ι2 in S through P. If ι1 and ι2 are perpendicular, then ι1 is perpendicular to the plane S. The term orthogonal was coined for a similar relationship that applies to line segments or plane figures that do not intersect. Think of a plane figure π and a line segment λ. When λ does not intersect π, we can check whether the line, ι on which the segment lies, and the plane, S, in which the figure lies, are orthogonal. If ι is perpendicular to S, then p and λ are orthogonal.

1 There is a tendency to think of paintings as the representation of "one intercepted moment, a single instant" (as Steinberg puts it), much like the "freeze frame" technique sometimes used in films. In his analysis of Leonardo's Last Supper, Steinberg (1973) has shown that there, as in other Renaissance paintings, different parts of the picture depict moments that could not have occurred concurrently. In his conversation with the sculptor Paul Gsell, August Rodin gives another reason:
... while my Saint John is represented with both feet on the ground, it is probable that an instantaneous photograph from a model making the same movement would show the back foot already raised and carried toward the other. ... It is exactly for that reason that this model photographed would present the odd appearance of a man suddenly stricken with paralysis and petrified in his pose ... . [Rodin1971 p. 74].

< Previous       Next >