Vanishing Points: Three Dimensional Perspective in Art and History Milton E. Brener

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Vanishing Points: Three Dimensional Perspective in Art and History Milton E. Brener

McFarland and Company, London, 2004

Milton Brener, who has authored several works on art history, has now offered us an absorbing and functionally illustrated book on the history of perspective, from prehistoric, Egyptian and Middle Eastern art (from which it was essentially absent), through Greek and Roman art (in which it is nurtured), the church art of the European Middle Ages (where it is largely ignored) and into the Renaissance (when it reaches perfection). Reference is also made to Oriental art. The illustrations are only in black and white, but that is all that is necessary to support his argument.

Brener takes the view that it was not only ignorance of technique that caused early artists to ignore perspective, but rather a difference of philosophy. He supports this thesis by showing how Oriental art, despite its advanced techniques and high aesthetic appeal, generally places little value on perspective

Early art, from the cave paintings of the Upper Paleolithic and South African and Australian figures, generally relied upon two-dimensional side views, and showed little analytical ability, with only twisted perspective. Egyptian and Assyrian paintings and relief sculptures are similarly presented. Egyptian drawings of boats show the sail parallel to the side view of the boat, when in real life it would have been at an angle to the hull.

Early artists sought to show what they believed was important for the observer to know, irregardless of what the observer would be able to see if present and looking at the object. The size of an object as portrayed in the picture would depend on the importance the artist placed on it, quite unrelated to perspective, or how it would appear to the eye of an observer. Nevertheless, the Egyptians clearly recognized and identified the objects they portrayed, and when depicting human beings distinguished sharply the racial characteristics of Egyptians, Libyans, Nubians, Asians and Europeans. It was only perspective that they ignored.

Early Greek art at the beginning of the Fifth Century first begins to show an interest in portraying things as they actually appeared in the eyes of an observer. Oblique views, foreshortening and diminution of distant objects in relief sculptures and monumental painting become common. The Greeks seem to have been the first to develop perspective, by concentrating also on exactly what they saw - how the subject appeared to them when they looked at it.

As Greek art develops, natural objects such as rocks and trees are introduced into scenes, but not it would seem with the same feeling that was to inspire later West European landscape painters. Nevertheless the Greeks mastered perspective, the mathematical aspects of which were analyzed by Euclid.

Unlike the Egyptians, the Greeks also humanized their Gods, and gave them specific features. …