Domenico Veneziano, Madonna and Child with Four Saints, also
known as La Sacra Conversazione or the Saint Lucy altarpiece)
(ca. 1445). Panel. Galeria Uffizi, Florence.
One should not, however, expect the vanishing point
in Renaissance paintings always to point to an element that is important to
the narrative. Sometimes the vanishing point interacts with the more visual
elements of the painting, such as in Domenico Veneziano's Madonna and
Child with Four Saints (Figure 1.9), in which the folds of the Madonna's
cloak form a triangular pattern as it drapes between her knees. The downward-pointing
vertex of this triangle (which is echoed in the decoration between the arches)
is also the vanishing point of the perspective. It should be noticed, however,
that Domenico uses the fan of orthogonals to organize many important features
of the painting. For instance, the eyes of Saint Francis (the figure on the
left) fall upon an orthogonal; the left eye of Saint John (the second figure
from the left) and the tips of the thumb and the index finger of his right
hand fall on an orthogonal; the right eye of Saint Zenobius (the second figure
from the right) and the tips of his index and middle fingers are also aligned
on an orthogonal. In some cases it falls on a point in a distant background
landscape, such as in Pietro Perugino's Virgin Appearing to Saint Bernard
(Figure 1.10) or in empty space (as in many other Annunciations, where the
vanishing point lies between the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin).
To these three uses of perspective (the illusionistic,
narrative focus, and structural focus) Warman Welliver has recently added
a fourth: "The new rules of perspective drawing gave to the painter
and relief sculptor ... a new code for concealing allusion and meaning in
his work." He shows how perspective enabled Domenico Veneziano and
Piero della Francesca to translate the floor plans of complex buildings
- the architectural dimensions and proportions of which bore allegorical
or symbolic significance - into painting. Here is his analysis of certain
aspects of Domenico's Sacra Conversazione (Figure 1.9).
The most obvious factor in Domenico's scheme of dimensions and proportions, as might be expected, is three. The elemental shape from which the pattern of floor tiles is derived is the equilateral triangle; the viewing distance, or invisible floor, is three times the visible floor; the Gothic facade consists of three bays and is three G [ = the interval between columns of the Gothic loggia] high (including the putative entablature) by three wide; the floor is feet wide at the baseline and the total depth of the architecture beyond the baseline is 27, or 33 feet.
A second and less obvious element in the proportions is the interplay between 2 and 3. We look across a floor which is 3/2 G deep at an elevation (without the entablature) of which the base is 2/3 G below eye level and the proportions above eye level are 2:3. The overall proportions of the elevation, 23 :3.2 The proportions of the four large rectangles of floor into which the plan forward of the exhedra naturally divides are, beginning with the invisible floor, 3:2, 1:2, 1:3, and 2:3.
No doubt the theological allusion of this coupling of 2 and 3 is the expansion of the dual deity to the Trinity with the coming of Christ. (Welliver, 1973, p. 8)
Fig 1.10 Pietro Perugino, Virgin Appearing to Saint Bernard (1488-9). Panel. Alte Pinakothek, Munich
Having seen how important perspective could be for
Renaissance art and the central role it played in Mantegna's Archers
shooting at Saint Christopher. Two tragedies befell this fresco painted
on the wall of the Ovetari Chapel of the Eremitani Church in Padua. By the
time this fresco was first photographed in color, during the Second World
War, it had deteriorated to such an extent that its bottom third and the
figure of the saint on the left were defaced beyond recognition; on March
11, 1944, soon after it was photographed, the entire east end of the church,
which contained the Ovetari chapel, was destroyed in an American air raid
on the nearby railway yards of Padua. Frederick Hartt writes:
Only pathetically small fragments of Mantegna's
frescoes were recovered, and these ... are now mounted in the chapel upon
frescoes reconstructed from photographs. The reconstruction, however painstaking,
gives only an echo of the lost masterpieces2 (Hartt
1969, p. 350).
2 From Discovery News
23, 2003: Collected and wrapped up inside 73 boxes, the fragments were
sent to the IstitutoCentrale per il Restauro in Rome,
where all the attempts to recompose the pieces failed.
Many feared the frescoes could never be repaired. They remained in the boxes
until 1994, when, during a conservation treatment, they were photographed
and transferred onto 38 CD-Roms, a procedure that has paved the way to a
"Overall, there were 80,735 fragments. The majority was relatively
small, with a surface area of five to six square centimeters. Only a computer-based
technology could have solved the puzzle. At the end, our virtual reconstruction
will tell art historians whether it is possible to embark on a real restoration
project," Domenico Toniolo, professor at Padua University's department
of physics and responsible for the project, told Discovery News.