Innovation and Visualization: Trajectories, Strategies, and Myths

By Amy Ione | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Theory: Innovation: Practice

Jan van Eyck’s eye operates as a microscope and as a telescope at
the same time — and it is amusing to think that both these
instruments were to be invented, some 175 years later, in the
Netherlands — so that the beholder is compelled to oscillate
between a position reasonably far from the picture and many
positions very close to it…. However, such perfection had to be
bought at a price. Neither a microscope nor a telescope is a good
instrument with which to observe human emotion.

Erwin Panofsky, Early Netherlandish Painting


1. Leon Battista Alberti and Giorgio Vasari

The tension between art writing and art practice is further accentuated when we turn to the figures now seen as the founders of the field as practiced today. Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), generally characterized as the first Italian art historian, initiated the genre with his publication of an encyclopedia of artistic biographies that art historians continue to cite today. In this publication, Lives of the Artists (Delle Vite de’ pi eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori), he coined the term “Renaissance” (rinascita) when he spoke of a “rebirth” in the arts that had been in the air from the time of Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472). Characterizing Alberti as “The Architect of Florence,” Vasari tells us:

When theory and practice are united in one person, the ideal
condition is attained, because art is enriched and perfected by
knowledge, the opinions and writings of learned artists having
more weight and more credit than the words or works of those
who have nothing more to recommend them beyond what they
have produced; whether it be done well or ill. The truth of these
remarks is illustrated by Leon Battista Alberti, who, having
studied the Latin tongue and practiced architecture, perspective
and painting; has left works to which modern artists can add
nothing, although numbers of them have surpassed him in
practical skill. His writings possess such force that is it commonly
supposed that he surpassed all those who were actually his
superiors in art. (Vasari 1967: 208-209)

-87-

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