Dürer and perspective

Albrecht Dürer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Albrecht Dürer (b. Nuremberg, 21 May 1471; d. Nuremberg, 6 April 1528)

Painter, draughtsman, printmaker and writer. Now considered by many scholars the greatest of all German artists, he not only executed paintings and drawings of the highest quality but also made a major contribution to the development of printmaking, especially engraving, and to the study of anthropometry.

It was in Bologna that Dürer was taught (possibly by the mathematician Luca Pacioli) the principles of linear perspective, and evidently became familiar with the ‘costruzione legittima’ in a written description of these principles, found only, at this time, in the unpublished treatise of Piero delle Francesca. He was also familiar with the ‘abbreviated construction’ as described by Alberti and the geometrical construction of shadows, a technique of Leonardo da Vinci. Although Dürer made no innovations in these areas, he is notable as the first Northern European to treat matters of visual representation in a scientific way, and with understanding of Euclidean principles. In addition to these geometrical constructions, Dürer discusses in the last book of Unterweysung des Messung an assortment of mechanisms for drawing in perspective from models and provides woodcut illustrations of these methods that are often reproduced in discussions of perspective.

Perspective: the technique of representing three-dimensional objects and depth relationships on a two-dimensional surface.

Illustration from T.17.28[1]
p. 581 [i.e. 185]
Here we have an illustration from a work published in 1535 based on or possibly a reprint of Unterweysung des Messung (T.17.28[1]).

Dürer’s illustration shows apparatus for drawing a classic set-piece, a foreshortened lute. A pointer is attached to a thread running through a pulley on the wall. The thread represents a ray of light passing through the picture plane to the theoretical eye-point denoted by the pulley. As one man fixes key points on the lute, his assistant records the vertical and horizontal co-ordinates of the thread as it passes through the frame, and plots each new point to create a drawing.

Have a look at an art teacher’s theory that Dürer originally meant to put the frame in the centre of the image.

Here are some additional images from the book:

Illustration from T.17.28[1]
p. 179
Title page to T.17.28[1]
title page








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