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Chapter I: The Arrow in the Eye (page 6)

The Arrow in the Eye


Fig 1.14 Leon Battista Alberti, Church of San Francesco, Rimini (Tempio Malatestiano) showing frieze and inscription on an urn in one of the niches.

Fig 1.15 Andrea Mantegna, detail of Figure


Fig 1.16 Leon Battista Alberti, Self-portrait. Samuel H. Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington

So if the setting in which this dramatic event is taking place is Albertian, and the scene of the arrow in the eye is seen, so to speak, through an Alberti window, then the conjecture that the arrow in the eye is a reference to Alberti's text becomes plausible.

Our conjecture gains further support from the existence of a second reference to arrows, in a text by Filarete.13 In his Treatise on Architecture, Filarete discusses the technique of drawing in perspective; much of what he has to say on this topic is an improved exposition of Alberti's ideas. At one point, while he is explaining how to draw square buildings, Filarete writes:

If you wish to make doors, windows, or stairs, everything should be drawn to this point, because, as you have understood, the centric point is your eye,14 on which everything should rest just as the crossbowman always takes his aim on a fixed and given point. [Emphasis mine. Filarete (Antonio di Piero Averlino), 1965, pp. 304-5]

Because the treatise is later than Mantegna's fresco (it was written between 1461 and 1464), Filarete could have borrowed it from Mantegna, from Alberti, or perhaps from yet another source.

13 Filarete is the nom-de-plume of Antonio Averlino (ca. 1400-ca. 1469), a Florentine sculptor and architect.

14 Filarete is conflating two concepts in a manner that was common [CWT will find one more example] at the time: the vanishing point, to which converge the images of lines orthogonal to the picture plane; and the eye of the painter, which is the center of projection in the space in front of the picture. Because the vanishing point and the center of projection move in tandem, they were often treated as a single entity; see Chapter 2.

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