"Whenever the Rules... Should Fail, and Grow Tedious": On the Limits of Perspectival Representation

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Abstract Summary
In one of the six perspectival projections in The Practice of Painting and Perspective Made Easy (1756), Thomas Bardwell includes an ancient sculpture of an elaborately curved pair of ram’s horns. His long study of the rules of perspective and “puzzling after this mathematical Truth” notwithstanding, Bardwell was unable to render the form of the horns mathematically and determined that “whenever the Rules . . . should fail, and grow tedious, . . . I design immediately to settle the Affair at Sight of the Object.” Mathematicians who wrote on perspective acknowledged the complexities of perspectival rendering and described mechanical devices to aid in avoiding the difficulties for those who were not “willing to take the pains to open the Compass, nor to take the Rule for to draw a line,” as Jean Du Breuil put it in 1642. Such devices were ingenious alternative responses to the challenge of rendering two-dimensional objects on a three-dimensional surface and themselves reached considerable levels of complexity, but the extent to which they were actually used by practicing artists remains unclear. This paper examines the tipping point between perspectival theory and practice, focusing on renderings of curved objects, especially musical instruments, from Albrecht Dürer’s famous woodcut of two artists using a device to depict a foreshortened lute in his Underweysung der Messung (1525) to the elaborate still lifes by Evaristo Baschenis and Bartolomeo Bettera in the next century.
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Submission Type
Organized Session
Abstract Topic
Theoretical Approaches to the Study of Science
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