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Why was The Brunelleschi Window Abandoned? (page 3)

Why was The Brunelleschi Window Abandoned?


Fig.9.6 Advertisement for a 3-D (stereoscopic) film.


Stereoscopic films are gimmicks not only because you must wear special spectacles to perceive the illusion, but also (and perhaps principally) because the stereoscopic films made to date were designed as showcases for the illusion (see Figure 9.6), replete with startling events such as objects hurtling at you and horrible, menacing monsters emerging from the screen to disembowel you. When such superficial application of the illusion fades out and is gradually replaced by an application that does not make the illusion the core the experience, it ceases to be considered a gimmick. Sergei Eisenstein thought stereoscopic films would come of age in this sense:

The stereoscopic film is the tomorrow of the cinema... [because] art "species" that survive are those whose structure accords with the innermost organic tendencies and requirements of both the creator and the spectator... [and] the three-dimensional principal in the stereoscopic film fully and consecutively answers some inner urge... it satisfies some inborn requirement of human nature. (1970, pp. 129-30).

We have noted three characteristics of illusion-producing devices that drive them out of the realm of art and evoke in us the impression that a gimmick is involved. First, some gimmicks are vulnerable to technical disclosure. Second, some gimmicks demand constrained conditions of observation. Third, gimmicks are accompanied by the suggestion that the illusion is the principal experience to be had.

The peephole bears the latter two stamps of the gimmick: It requires the spectator to immobilize his or her eye at the peephole; and it is presented as a means of obtaining a powerful illusion of depth and thus focuses the observers' attention on the illusion rather than any other, more valuable aspects of the work.

The second reason Brunelleschi and his contemporaries had for abandoning the peephole method is more subtle than the avoidance of gimmicks and perhaps more important. After all, one should not exaggerate the difficulty of overcoming a public's prejudiced tendency to call a new technique a gimmick if it is put to varied arid interesting uses. The second reason is related to the robustness of perspective. We have seen that the scene represented in a painting does not appear to undergo distortions when a spectator moves in front of it, and that the robustness of perspective implies that the spectator is able to infer the location of the center of projection of a perspective picture, to compensate for the that the picture plane undergoes during the spectator's movement, and to see the picture as it would be seen from the center of projection. I have also hinted that the spectator experiences his or her body to be at this inferred center of and that this experience was intuitively discovered by the Renaissance painters and exploited in pictures that were designed so that they would never be seen from the center of projection (a phenomenon discussed in Chapter 7).


Fig.9.7 Andrea Mantegna, Saint James Led to Execution (1454-7). Fresco. Ovetari Chapel, Eremitani Church, Padua.


To convey how compellingly a painting puts you at its center of projection, we will analyze one of Mantegna's frescoes in the Ovetari Chapel. This painting produces this experience so effectively that it induced an eminent art historian into error. Frederick Hartt, in his History of Italian Renaissance Art, writes:

The lowest register of frescoes of the life of St. James begins just above the eye level of a person of average height for the Renaissance. The last two scenes, therefore, are planned as if Mantegna had a stage in front of him filled with models of human beings seeming to move downward as they recede from the eye. Thus only the feet of the figures nearest to the picture plane appear, in fact even break through the picture plane; the others are cut off by the lower edge of the fresco. In the St. James Led to Execution [Figure 9.7], we look up at the nearby buildings portrayed with sharply real effect... . The coffering of the arched gateway is also seen from below. But a moment's reflection will disclose that if Mantegna had been consistent in his view, he would have made the verticals converge as they rise, because they are orthogonals leading to another vanishing point, high above the scene. (1969, p. 350)

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