Currently viewing the category: "Perspective"

JF Ptak Science Books Daily Dose from Dr. Odd

Follow Me on Pinterest

This Daily Dose from Dr. Odd combines two interesting categories today, "Looking Straight Down" and "Display of Information", and they involve food. Rather, its the placement of food, and maps of dinner tables, seen from above–directly above–and looking straight down.

The idea of representing a view straight down, of looking straight down from some height, is a relatively recent occurrence, this view being somewhat rare in the antiquarian world pre-balloon or pre-heavier-than-air flight. The pre-human-flight reason for its scarcity is understandable, but even after the first Montgolfier ascension in 1787, there’s another 120+ years of scarcity yet to come before these views would start to pop up in common (and uncommon) literature.. Now I’m not talking about cartography, which is basically a straight-down view of the world—what I’m referring to is that same view but not as a map per se, but what you would see if you were dangling out of a plane or balloon. It is an unusual and scarce perspective.

Maps--Imaginary--Map of a Wedding Table

Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1973 Follow Me on Pinterest

This ad appeared only 59 years ago–that's four generations in dog years, two human generations (or one for the more later-in-life crew, which is appealing as I knew a man whose grandfather was born in the 18th century), and 15 generations in managing data and communications. Perhaps more. It is difficult to imagine the intense surprise that attended this ad showing a practical and popular adaptation of a communications breakthrough.

Telephone future064

The electromagnetic telegraph, which is arguably the first electrically-powered iteration of the internet, was in the works from the 1820's until it was nailed by Samuel Morse in 1837. It was 40 years to the development of the Bell telephone (another dramatic example of an invention/technological idea/breakthrough that was "in the wind", a popular undiagnosed monumental meme, some decades in the making in the hands of Bell anbd Reiss and Meucci and Gray and even Edison). Two more decades (just past the turn of the century) until more-widespread wireless telegraphy, another two decades after that (1920's) for poular radio, and another two decades after that (post WWII/1950's) for popular television broadcating. 120 years between the patented invention of the Morse telegraph to 50 million Americans with televisions in 1955.

The "telephone" of 2013 is as removed as the telephone of 1955 as the telephone of 1955 was removed from the electromagnetic telegraph–we're not meeting half-way in the meeting of improbable impossible worlds, of worlds of the future unimagined in the past. That is what comes to mind when I see this add for the speaking telephone in 1954–the astounding, astonishing, speaking telephone, the phone that allowed you to not have the receiver to the ear, tht allowed you to do free-hand work and communicate at the same time. It was an ambitious improvement, and as soon as the phone appeared, it became a standard of necessity if that necessity was within budget.

It is the weight of surprise that is so abundant looking at pictures like this, giving us the opportunity to imagine the surprise elements of another time. It may well be that the new 1954 user of the speakerphone would have looked at the first telephone systems of 1894 as we look on that 1954 telephone today. Probably not so, though, probably it was much more imaginable to have forseen the 1954 possibilities in 1894 than for 1954 to have seen in the same amount of time to 2013: the technological pieces necessary for part of that imagination had not yet been invented, the science ahead of the scifi.

The other part of this surprise element is that 1954 is well within living memory, and that this combinaiton of technology and physics and mathematics has grown so incredibly from the speakerphone to the massive changes in 2013–it is as surprising to imagine this as to imagine the same scenario for what ahppened a year before in biology: it is difficult to grasp the sweeping changes in that field from the identification of DNA in 1953 and how far those fields have come since.

I think that if one could quantify this sort of "surprise" that the greatest amount of "Surprise Integers" (or whatever) ever recorded would have taken place within these past 50 or 60 years. Which makes me wonder–will people 59 years hence see the pictures of our fabulous accomplishments in 2013 as quaint reminders of how much things changed between 2013 and 2072? Will those "Surprise Integers" be as great for that period of time as the ("our") preceding period with concomitant revolutions in thought? My guess is "yes"–its just hard to imagine.

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

Dubreuil origins of shadows det 1_edited-1

Shadows must come from somewhere, and it is that "somewhere" that this beautifully-titled chapter addresses.

Dubreuil origins of shadows det 1

In another unusually-titled piece, we find a "shadow-maker" embedded within patented "cloud creator", as so

this taken from the 25 May 1892 patent granted to Steele MacKaye, though his apparatus was only for generating special effects for the theatre. Still, the title of the patent was pretty catchy, as was the "shadow-maker" part, which is evidently the only time that phrase is used in U.S. patents through 1900.

Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1943 (Part of the series on the History of Blank, Empty and Missing Things.)
Follow Me on Pinterest

"Where is abstract without solids, I ask you?" — William Gaddis, on the solids in Uccello, The Recognitions, 1955

Actually, I think that there's plenty of abstract without solids, so long as you've seen solids before.

I've returned to a slightly recurrent theme in this blog dealing with the great Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) and his study of perspective–but most directly as he was observed by William Gaddis in his Great American Novel The Recognitions. (I am forever grateful to my brilliant Patti Digh for really hooking me into Gaddis so many years ago–Patti was long intrigued by Gaddis and wrote her UVa master dissertation on his Big Book. Gaddis' book can be found here.) Among other things Uccello is recognized as being one of the greatest and among the earliest artist to re-discover the science of perspective, and was throughout his life a passionate student and practioner.

Blogsan_romano[Much of Uccello's work can be found at Paolo Uccello Complete Works website, here.]

"Painting is exquisite as the punishment for the thinker."–William Gaddis, The Recognitions

The “solids’ recognized by Gaddis (and not really
discussed, and mentioned only twice in the book I believe) are incredible to me. Looking at his painting Battle of San Romano
(1457) we see Perspective in her place; but when we look at, say, the rumps
of the horses, we see almost no detail, just a mass of color, a solid,
with spectacular plainness. What in the world was he thinking? He could
certainly have painted the horse and the other solids with texture and
detail, but he didn’t, and to me it seems antithetical to the painting.
What in the name of all motherly things was he thinking? And who else
on earth was using such huge amounts of plain solids in their
paintings? I’m not aware that anyone else was, and I am relatively
clueless as to why he did it, abandoning detail in order to raise awareness of the surrounding parts of the painting, or perhaps heightening a sense of the not-yet-existent abstract, or drawing attention to the perspectival aspect of the work?

Blogsan_romano_rump[A detail of the missing detail, above.]

But the solids are not just limited to Uccello, though they may have appeared there first, especially as the "exhibited" variety of this thinking. Jacopo Bellini (ca. 1400-ca. 1470) was a contemporary, living pretty much during the same period of time as Uccello, and who was responsible as much as anyone else for introducing oils in painting and establishing the Venetian style. He was a brilliant artist, the teacher of Mantegna, ran a fabulous studio, and was the father of two great artists. (One son, Giovanni, was a highly regarded artist who was also the teacher of Girgione and Titian.)

In looking through two volumes of Jacopo's drawings, I was struck by the number of times that horses and other objects appeared without detail, as solid solids, or mostly solid, quite outside the way in which these things were painted in the 15th century. Pacing though the books flipping through the open pages is like looking at a pop-up book in reverse–each set of pages opened are like looking into, looking through, the book, into space. They are collections of perspective. And they are populated by those other solids, which was surprising.

His horses appear very much like those in Uccello–except of course that these images were personal, workbooks for the artist, idea-machines and memory devices. There was plenty of detail in other aspects of these drawings, but the lack of the detail int he Uccellian manner really struck me.

Christiane L. Joost-Gaugier's "Jacopo Bellini's Interest in Perspective and its Iconographical Significance" found in Zeitschrift fuer Kunstgeschichte (1975)
makes a very learned and eloquent case for the overwhelming interest
that Belinni had in the study of perspective–not to the exclusion of
all other things, because there were still patrons to be satisfied and
religious and triumphal scenes that needed to be painted–and
concentrated on that interpretation focusing on Bellini's stylebooks.
(Most of Bellini's output has been lost, but there are two volumes of
manuscript studies that have survived.)

many of Jacopo Bellini's drawings are reminiscent of model-book notions
in that they illustrate a variety of suggestions for the representation
of traditional themes – for example Flagellations, Adorations, Davids,
and animals -they are, taken as a whole, entirely different from model
book drawings. Jacopo rarely concentrated on a subject for the sake of
its thematic content. Almost never does a bald statement of fact appear
to describe, for example, a biblical event. Rather than focusing on the
event itself, Jacopo's compositions characteristically are concerned
with other things. In the vast majority of cases the subject is set
within the context of a variety of architectural motifs or in that of an
extensive naturalistic world. It would appear that for Jacopo Bellini
biblical subject matter was a justification for his participation in a
variety of other new interests. Primary among these was the special
attention given to perspective…"
No mention of course of the Uccello horses. And perhaps they're really not there there, but it certainly looks like they are, at least to me. They might not have been there for Gaddis, either, as Bellini doesn't show up in the book, Gaddis thinking more about Uccello, and then even more so of Hieronymous Bosch, Hugo van der Goes, and Hans Memling.

And here it is, Bellini's solids, an example:

Solids bellini913
There are others as well, examples of what, I am not sure–fantastic visions into blankness and into the future of what painting would become 450 years hence.

Perhaps they were just place-keepers, to be filled-in as neededm just a shrt-hand expression of a horse rather than a transcendental imperative. After all, Bellini knew horse muscles, and decided in his workbooks that he just didn't need to draw them, or that in the sense of Bartleby the scrivener that he'd prefer not to.


Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

Follow Me on Pinterest

The fantastic Jesuit Andrea Pozzo published results of his researches on perspective in his Perspectiva pictorum et architectoru (1693),
explaining how he was able to compellingly, unbelievably represent
three-dimensional images on two-dimensional spaces, this image showing
plan and projection and profile, effectively giving you a
three-dimensional cross section of the architectural element…and having them seemingly float in space. His work is just absolutely gorgeous.

Pozzo 7

Pozo 2

Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1942 (Part I)
Follow Me on Pinterest

 I silently laugh at my own cenotaph
And out of the caverns of rain..  Percy B. Shelley, "The Cloud", 1820

[John Ruskin, Cloud Perspectival, 1860. Source for all Ruskin images: "Cloud Studies: The Visible Invisible",
by Mary Jacobus,

And this:

[John Ruskin, Cloud Perspective: Curvilinear., Modern Painters, Vol. V, Plate LXV.]

In a way the first image reminds me of Andrea Pozzo's work in his monumental Rules and
examples of perspective proper for painters and architects


but really more in the way that Pozzo's work seems to be elevated and floating in a heavy perspectivist space, bigger and blockier sky-borne marble than with ruskin. But still, the disembodied floatiness of the Pozzo work is ethereal.

Ruskin does round out his blocky and beautiful geometry, which definitely reminds me of work w=that would appear 90 years later: Ruskin, again:

And Georgia O'Keefe's Clouds III (1963), though her clouds tend towards a more rigid geometry in Clouds IV (1965, following):

Clouds O'KeefeO'Keefe, Clouds Above the Sky III, 1963

Clouds okeefe sky above iv 1965O'Keefe, Clouds Above the Sky IV, 1965

Ms. Georgia is definitely seeing her clouds with different eyes than Ruskin, and they are entirely different creatures–but still, the two come together in my head as relatives. The clouds, I mean.

I started looking around for early hard-line cloud geometries and thus far I haven't found very much, though there is a tremendous example by Henry Van de Velde's (1863-1957) "Sun at Ocean (Rhythmic Synthesis”) which I found in Werner Hoffman’s Turning Points in Twentieth century Art, 1890-1917 and which was executed in 1888/9, looks to me to be absolutely incredible for its time, a nearly non-representational, proto-abstract something, done three decades before these genres came into being.

Clouds van de velde
I don;t know where the designer Van de Velde fits in the early history of non-representational art, but his effort in the second to last decade of the 19th century certainly seems to be very unusual for its time, and a good example of creative cloud representation.

Non-standard cloud imagery is much easier to finding the 20th century, like those of Georges Braque in his La Ciotat Harbor (1906):

Clouds braque
Even this starts to have the look of something earlier, particularly if you turned the clouds-in-art clock way back, say, into the Renaissance. For example Martin Schoengauer 's spectacular The Temptation of St. Anthony, which was printed in 1470/5 , has
a beautiful, fluid circularity to it, full of an earthy roundness even
as the saint is pursued by demons. But the sky in the background is
populated with nothing but dashes to suggest clouds , and which also starts to look something like the Fauvist and Expressionist works to come, 400/500 years later.

Clouds schoengauer

(There are many examples of the sky being simply not represented at all, particularly in woodblock,

like this image from Ovid ( Accipe Studiose Lector P. Ouidij Metamorphosin...printed in Venice in 1509:

Clouds no couds livy913

"You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead –
There were no birds to fly".–Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass.

There are many non-sky images like this.

Another interesting modern example is this Paul Klee (though it comes fairly late in that career, in 1940):

Clouds Paul Klee 1940And an example from the ubiquitous Picasso, still later, in 1962:

Clouds Picasso

But earlier images are harder to locate. The obvious early-ish source (though still much later in the century) would be Van Gogh (say, with Starry Night) and Monet, though the fractalesque Van Gogh gets much closer to the re-interperative power of the Ruskin images than the reflected impressionist beauty of the Monet.

Clouds Monet
On a cursory look around the antiquarian painterly sky-world, it is becoming obvious that the cloud geometries of Ruskin are very uncommon.


1. For full text of Ruskin's Modern Painters , see (1873)volume 5 for (1860) and (1873)

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1938
Follow Me on Pinterest

Gasseni eye of god det_edited-1
Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655) published this God's-eye-view of creation a few years after his death in the fourth volume ( Astronomica) of his six-volume Opera Omina. His friends and supporters of course saw to the publication of this mathematician/philosopher/logician's work1 back there in 1658, so Gassendi–a very prominent thinker from a long-line of thinkers nearly on the verge of great discovery here and there and certainly a witness to it–made his greatest adventure in publishing only in death.

Imaging a physical god is a tricky business in the history of the printed book. Bits of the creator of the universe turn up in book illustrations over hundreds of years, though I am not sure when the very first picture of a part of god appears. The hand of the creator (generally seen as the Primum Mobile) is not terribly uncommon in images of a scientific nature in the 17th and 18th centuries, and is perhaps best exemplified by Robert Fludd's famous Monochord:

Robert fludd celestialOf course there are many instance of the full-bodied god being seen through a break in the clouds, though in all the instances of this that I have seen the tantalizing peak into whatever region it is that this god exists is left entirely blank, a small white space. As so:

God in the sky

(Title page is for the narrative poem Le Metamorfosi, Ovid’s Metamorphoses,
translated into Italian by Gioseppe Horologgi, and published in Venice in 1563. See an earlier post on this blog, A History of Blank and Empty Things: God in a Hole in the Sky, here.)

The eye of god is also not very uncommon, and is represented by an eye and also in a sacred triangle. Less common though are images like Gassendi's, which in a way, in an odd and almost offhand way, give the reader a sense of what it is that god might be seeing in agodly-lineof-sight Perhaps this is incorrect–but in judging his image with others in my experience it seems to me that the representation is a little more "personalized" here than just about anywhere else.

Gasseni eye of god


Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
Follow Me on Pinterest

The following example of Great Obviousness comes from one of the great masters of perspective on the Continent, Jan Vredeman de Vries, (architect, engineer and man with a vision), and appear in his work Variae Architecturae Formae, and published in 1601. (The whole of the book is available at the Internet Archive, here.)

It would be interesting to know the history of this tree and its obvious salvation–it doesn't seem to be older than the street or the buildings, yet, there it is, a tree the diameter of an adult waist in the middle of a very populated street


Below you can see the detail of the man at the middle right–he is absolutely pointing to teh tree, perhaps sharing his amazement with the man and child coming down the street. The pointer had been seated, probably, on the bench behind the bar that was in front of the bar/saloon/draughthouse that he was probably inside of, perhaps enjoying a pint of five, perhaps making the tree even more amusing than it was. (The tilted stein is clearly visible advertising a place for thirsts to stop.) The child is reacting to something, and even so the dogs–the second of which seems to be stopped mid-stride in amazement.

Obviousness detail

Another exzmple of the unexpected tree comes later in the same book, when we see one tree in th emiddle of a plan garden and the other growing on top of what might be an herbarium. (On closer inspection the figure at lower right is a woman collectig some water in a jug; without magnification the seen looks a little more sinister than it is.)Obviousness 2

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1937

Follow Me on Pinterest

I am hardly an historian of the theatre (and having said that will give me a chance to make some mistakes in what I am about to say) but so many of the stage designs of Giacomo Torelli look to be concentrated at an infinite horizon that I wanted to collect a few of them in one place. Torelli (1608-1678) was an artist and artistic-technician who brought engineering skills to the stage, and was evidently a much-sought-after designer, given his very special

Theatre perspective-Torelli

[Image source: WIki, here.] Set design for Act 5 of Pierre Corneille's Andromède as first performed on 1 February 1650 by the Troupe Royale at the Petit-Bourbon in Paris.]

I do have to say that the Torelli puts me in mind of the perspective king of 17th c Continental architecture, Vriedman de Vries (1527 – c. 1607) , especially with the columns (from his Architectura, 1633):

Vriedman de Vries[Source:]

talents and innovations. He was absolutely interested in one-point perspective and the techniques used to gather the audience's vision and suck it all into the low-center of the back of t he stage, giving the production a fabulous quality of depth and distance. (He also provided the ingenuity and gearwork for quick changes of massive scenery by one stagehand, working under the stage with pulleys and winches, hauling large elements on and off stage during a performance. His work can be seen in the iconic Encyclopedie of Denis Diderot in a section for "Machines du theatre" in 1772.)

The other thing that strikes me immediately with these images is their absolute usefulness in toy paper theatre. By making eight copies of the first image (above) and by cutting out each seven layers of columns (the opening space between the two sides becoming progressively smaller), and then the last and eight level of the mansion in the background and then standing them up and placing them all-in-a-row with an inch between them (accordion style), one could make a lovely 3-dimensional miniature stage. (Scene changes would be an entirely different matter.)

[Source: see note #1, below]

Torelli 2

[Source:, here.]

Torelli 3

[Source:, Operain Seventeenth Century Venice, the Creation of a Genre, by Ellen Rosand.]

Torelli 4

[Francesco Buti/Isaac de Benserade, "Les Noces de Pelée et de Thetis"; Source: Oesterreichisches Theatre Museum, here]


1. Bryan, Michael| (1889). Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, Biographical and Critical. Volume II : L-Z,
new edition, revised and enlarged, edited by Walter Armstrong &
Robert Edmund Graves. Covent Garden, London: George Bell and Sons

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1282–continued, & now with the Full Text book!

Follow Me on Pinterest

[Earlier in this blog, about 1200 posts ago, a million words ago, I wrote about an extraordinary book by an aesthetician named Emily Vanderpoel. It is "extraordinary" in a narrower sense, and that "extraordinary" might not actually be positive for its original intent. The extra-intent of the book, what has come out of it for me, was something that was unintentionally accomplished by the author. The images that she used to illustrate her color theory ideas--the basis of which are not really comprehensible to me--turn out to be artwork in themselves, a found art, the artistry of the images taking over the original intention for the arrangement of their color. I've found the book now at the Internet Archive in all of its glory, and downloaded only 150 times. I'm still at a loss to know why this work hasn't received more attention

The idea of how we put parameters to something like the visual field is a gargantuan topic—it is something that architects and geometers and physicists and mathematicians (in general) have dealt with forever.

The full text is available HERE via Internet Archive.

Mapmakers have perhaps the most visualized aspect of this on paper, performing the semi-miracle of translating three dimensions into two; physicists have a more difficult time, taking the opposite approach, sort of , and translating two or three dimensional space into x-number of dimensions. Anatomists had a difficult time of their subject until relatively recently in human history, what with the sublime religious curfews on messy knowledge and all coming into play, poking around into the heart and such as though it was an affront to the sanctity of the creator (M Servetus’ ideas on the circulation of the blood via the heart, making the heart a tool and not the brain or some odd conjunction of creative divine power, cost him his life, burning slowly alive at the stake…how mysterious the whole world of RNA Genotype-Phenotype Mapping and such would seem to him if he could have a peek into the future/present from wherever he is.)

Color theory is old and pretty—as a matter of fact there is a very attractive gathering of color theory models (in black and white, though) displaying some two dozen or more color models from the last 400 years. People like Della Porta (1593), our old friend and resident oddball polymath crank Kircher (1646), the smarter-than-you-could-imagine Newton (1660), Waller (1686), Lambert (1772), the wide ranging and again polymathic Goethe (1792), Herschel (1817, who also ushered in our understanding of the other light-sensitive shape spacing medium of photography in 1840), the semi-forgotten Chevreul (1835), the beautiful Maxwell (1857), Wundt (1874, the early experimental psychologist who also looked for spirits/spiritmus and ghosts), von Bezold (1878), Rood (1879), Munsell (1918) Kandinsky (1914 and not decipherable by me) and Klee (1924), and so on towards the present, all tried to analyze the prospects of color.

Not in this list is the very highly problematic Emily Vanderpoel, who in 1901 and 1903 produced (in two editions) a lovely but mysterious book called Color Problems for the Layman, in which she sought not so much to analyze the components of color itself, but rather to quantify the overall interpretative effect of color on the imagination. I know this sounds begging and vague, but I really haven’t been able to make much headway in the work.

I’m attracted to this effort because of its attempt at quantifying such abstract thoughts.

By virtue of this effort, though, Vanderpoel had produced a strikingly illustrated book, with 118 color plates, all very intense, and beautiful, and in its way exceptional—unique for it time perhaps. Had the book been written thirty years or so hence we’d call it some sort of constructivist/constructionist artform. But since the artwork in the book comes a decade before the first non-representational artwork in human history (or so), I don’t know exactly what to call it.

I really don’t know what it is, but I know that it is not entirely accidental, this pre-non-representational artform, because controlled geometrical color art is not accidental.

In trying to quantify the color images of the objects in her study, Vanderpoel establishes a 10×10 square grid, dividing all of the color in that object into individual units numbering to 100. Then, somehow, she identifies the major colors and places them according to a system that I cannot understand within the grid.


The net effect is glorious. I just don’t know how she got there—which isn’t normally a consideration in art, except that this work is an instructional on how to understand color in art and nature, and the explanation of the procedure is ethereal. Vanderpoel was and remains a respected author on porcelains and other applied and plastic arts. In this work she looked at her fair share of porcelain, limogues, clay pots, burial urns, glass shards, and the like; she also analyzed clouds, mummy cloths (and casings), dew on morning grass, brocade, the eye of a blue jay, feathers, and another hundred or so poetic arragenments of the stuff of teh world. I still do not know what this book is trying to tell me, but I do know that it is remarkable.

Read Full Article →