Modern ways of seeing the world, based on a technique called perspective, are only 500 years old; but that use of perspective in art was long enough for the "Futurists" to reject it's premises. In the Futurist Manifesto published February 20, 1909, the Italian artist Filippo Tomasso Marinetti, and others rejected the Renaissance artist's reliance on classical forms in favor of new means of expression dictated by the machine age.


As curators of MOMA have suggested "these artists called for a new aesthetic language based on industry, war, and the machine." In a series of subsequent manifestos Marinetti and others decried “the great discoveries of science,” and their impacts on the human soul (psyche) and the necessity to liberate the human imagination.


Alberti & Brunelleschi | Dali | Masaccio | Marinetti | Visual Archive


Painting in perspective was ironically rejected a century ago in favor of new symbols:

"a racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath. . . "

Futurist Manifesto, F. T. Marinetti, (1908).
Martin Kemp, Visualizations, p. 98.

Alberti & Brunelleschi | Dali | Masaccio | Marinetti | Bordwell



Salvador Dali's (1904-1989) On the Persistence of Memory was painted in 1931, and is an example of what the artist called "hand painted dream photographs." His goal had been to meticulously render an image in order "to systematize confusion and thus help to discredit completely the world of reality."

MOMA: Museum of Modern Art, NYC, New York.

Using the very "tricks of art" such as perspective – once used to portray reality; Dali instead seeks to reveal how constructed and contrived such a rendering of reality is, partly because reality cannot be represented, let alone apprehended.

The origins of creating with perspective an allusion to reality began five hundred years before Dali's work.


Art | Art in Perspective | Fooling the Eye | Landscapes | American landscape art



The dome of the Cathedral in Florence, 1420-1436, was Brunelleschi's grand achievement.

FirenzeFilippo Brunelleschi was the man who designed this dome of the Cathedral in Florence which had been constructed in stages from 13th –14th centuries {1296, 1357, 1366}, [ far right mid-ground, photograph by Barbara Siry, 2005 ]. Once the Campanile and Nave were completed the expansive dome showed how he was an innovator. There are over four million bricks in Brunelleschi's dome on the Cathedral in Florence (1418-1436).

He also developed and applied the principles of perspective between 1420 and 1430 from where Alberti in 1435 took inspiration for his 'Della Pittura' a treatise on linear perspective.

Filippo Di Ser Brunellesco (1377-1446).

Kahn Academy film on Brunelleschi's work.

Video on the contest between Ghiberti & Brunelleschi for the panels and the building of the dome.

Math page "BRUNELLESCHI'S PEEPSHOW & THE ORIGINS OF PERSPECTIVE" is a discussion of the Camera Obscura and design, Dartmouth College.

Filippo Brunelleschi , 1420. On painting Alberti in 1435. Film. Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker

Alberti & Brunelleschi | Dali | Masaccio | Marinetti | Visual Archive


The illusion of depth or three dimensions is created – when using a two-dimensional plane of the canvas as the medium for artistic expression – in a painting as the artist employs the rules of perspective. The pattern of converging straight lines is imposed and creates an illusion of proportion among objects in the drawing that is analogous to the way the eye perceives spaces, objects and landscape at a distance. This resort to measurement in the Renaissance was called realism because objects appeared in paintings as they might to the eye.

Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1474)

Alberti on Perspective
Utilizing the rules of perspective such as a) height of a human being, c) the vanishing point, e) "little space" & the placement of objects in relation to h) transversals to fool the eye. FAlse perspective
Perspective is the art of showing objects at an increasing distance with decreasing size.

"John Berger, an art historian, notes that the convention of perspective fits within Renaissance Humanism because 'it structured all images of reality to address a single spectator who, unlike God, could only be in one place at a time.'

In other words, linear perspective eliminates the multiple viewpoints that we see in medieval art, and creates an illusion of space from a single, fixed viewpoint. This suggests a renewed focus on the individual viewer; a theme that is an important part of the Humanism of the Renaissance."

From Kahn Academy, 2014.

More on linear perspective.

Alberti & Brunelleschi | Dali | Masaccio | Marinetti | Visual Archive



John R. Hale, Renaissance, (1965)

“Brunelleschi scientifically plotted the laws of linear perspective for the first time—applying mathematics he had learned from Toscanelli, who also counseled Christopher Columbus.”

p. 108

ideal city in perspective

Click the check to enlarge.

The intent of linear perspective and some of its practitioners.

The goal was “the mastery of realism.”

Tintorretto, Abduction of the body of Saint Mark.
Botticelli, Allegory of the Ass eared king.
Masaccio, The Holy Trinity.
Piero della Francesca, Flagellation, c. 1465.

Baldassare Peruzzi


Alberti & Brunelleschi | Dali | Masaccio | Marinetti | Visual Archive


“Masaccio…was the first Renaissance painter to master the use of mechanical perspective,”


Masaccio's Holy Trinity, 1428.

His portrayal of three persons in one god is in this Renaissance depiction, both the symbolic expression of Roman Catholicism on the eve of it's reformation and the affirmation of a way of understanding western Christendom that is at once illusory and rationally portrayed as if to suggest that the four human figures have a parallel (lines) relationship to the divine, triune personage portrayed under the classical barrel vault. The result is a stunning visual paradox to convey the "mystery of the faith" as expressed liturgically in the Creed (a prayer) and the mathematical proportionality ascribing both position and scale to each of the human figures portrayed in the fresco. The peopling of the fresco with Mary looking at you the viewer on the left and the Apostle John looking at Mary is only two of the four figures. The remaining two people are the patrons of the painter and they are looking at one another–not at the crucified Christ, or the trinity. As one critic notes "Masaccio imagines God as man," and depicts God the Father as standing on on foot as any human would do, behind his "only begotten son" who is being sacrificed. The spirit is portrayed so subtly that you may–at first–miss the Holy Ghost completely.

Mechanical perspective was probably invented by the architect Brunelleschi, who may have stumbled upon its principles in the course of his studies of the proportions of ancient Roman buildings. His discovery enormously excited his fellow artists. Some like Masaccio, made masterful use of it, and others became obsessed by it. Paolo Euclase, a contemporary of Masaccio, became so intrigued with its techniques that he stayed at his drawing table all night…”

Alberti & Brunelleschi | Dali | Masaccio | Marinetti | Visual Archive .


Piero della Francesca used Greek mathematicians for theoretical support in the treatise he wrote on perspective:

“measurement had become as important to art as drawing”

“to draw the relative size of objects correctly.”

“Stimulated by mechanical perspective, painters also investigated aerial perspective, using progressively paler colors on receding objects to obtain a sense of distance.”


“Not until the 19th Century French Impressionists did any group of artists make a greater contribution toward reproducing nature on a flat surface.”


Leonard da Vinci wrote of good painters “if he will study from natural objects he will bear good fruit.”

p. 98.

Martin Kemp writes that "All the new graphic modes forged during the Renaissance were realized at the highest level in the drawings of Leonard da Vinci. Indeed he may be considered the inventor of key techniques, including the exploded view and solid section for the disclosing of natural structures.

Visualizations p. 20

"The botanical analogy, typical of Leonardo's search for explanatory parallels between all created forms, is underscored by the ancillary sketches in the lower center of the sheet where the skins of the womb are peeled away to disclose its tender secrets."

pp. 20-21.

Alberti & Brunelleschi | Dali | Masaccio | Marinetti | Visual Archive


"If we search for cardinal examples of the influence of art on science, perspective provides the most striking and readily demonstrable example. It rapidly became the stock in trade for any artists who wished to remain abreast of the latest techniques–initially in Italy, and subsequently across Europe. We will subsequently see its widespread adoption by mathematicians and scientists concerned with the characterization of space."

"For many artists, perspective assumed the status of a convenient technique–a routine geometrical-cum-optical trick to establish the illusion of a space behind the surface of a picture."

The technique also "acted as a research tool through which the picture became and exponential field for the geometrical construction of illusions which might emulate the optical force of real space."

Visualizations, pp. 30-31.

Alberti & Brunelleschi | Dali | Masaccio | Marinetti | Visual Archive


Paradox of geometry & religious subjects in art,


Piero della Francesca (1420?-1492), wrote The Perspective of Painting, (1474-1482). "Getting things right was integral to his contract with God's design of nature."

"But amidst this extreme rationality" [the technique], Kemp argues that "he is a painter of miracles [the subjects] which lie outside optical logic."


"It is the very logic of Piero's perspectival consistency that allows him to highlight the supranormal power of the divine."


perspective, simple & complex


"The new age of science-based technology was to sweep away outmoded civilizations."

". . . poet F. T. Marinetti belligerently advocated the destruction of museums–the cemeteries of art–and lauded the beauty of a 'racing car...' "

cubist car

Martin Kemp, Visualizations, p. 98.

Alberti & Brunelleschi | Dali | Masaccio | Marinetti | Visual Archive


"The pictorial revolution of the Cubists, undertaken by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, involved the dissolution of perspectival space into fractured, interpenetrating planes and plural viewpoints. Their innovations have sometimes been interpreted retrospectively as the realization of Bernard Reimann's non-Euclidean geometry and even the embodiment of Einsteinian relativity. That there are suggestive parallels between the Cubist rejection of orthodox pictorial space and the new physics is not in question."

cubist car

"Speeding Automobile" Giacomo Balla, 1912; the cubists rendition of how a motor car breaks up space.

"some impaled on their own weapons"

"In the case of the Italian Futurists, who wrote explicitly about what they were doing, we can gain a more secure sense of how new ideas seeped into the artist's consciousness."

Martin Kemp, Visualizations, p. 98.


Georges Braque, (French, 1882–1963); Still Life with Violin, 1911, oil on canvas. {Siry 2008; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France.}

Alberti & Brunelleschi | Dali | Masaccio | Marinetti | Visual Archive




Martin Kemp, Visualizations: The nature book of Art and Science, U. of California Press, 2000.
Painting: Speeding Automobile,1912 by Giacomo Balla (Italian, 1871–1958) MOMA.


Visual interpretation

Last Updated on 06/23/2014 .

By Joseph Siry

Art | Art in Perspective | Fooling the Eye | Landscapes | American landscape art

schedule | Research home | Atlas | site-map | Ecology | laws | reliable web sites | quick look

Science Index | Site Analysis | Population Index | Global Warming Index | Nature Index | Research sites | Genes

Terms | Glossary | Word webs | Basic words | Advanced Vocabulary | Antonyms | Synonyms | Etymology | Concepts

Writing | Interviews | Free Writing

search here