​Space: dimensional space
Adrian Holme

Mediaeval and Renaissance space
In the Mediaeval world, space did not exist in the way we understand it today - as dimension in which bodies can be located.

'Just as post-Copernican theoretic space and the aesthetic space of the perspective painting are perfectly matched, so were medieval conceptions of space and medieval conventions of representation. The medievals, like the Greeks, "experienced the spatial," as Heidegger says, "on the basis not of extension, but... as chora, which signifies... that which is occupied by what stands there" (Heidegger, 54).'
Bordo (1987) p68.

This was based on an Aristotelian view of Space. 'For Aristotle, space contains; it does not locate' (Bordo S, 1987, p68). In other words space exists by way of objects existing and containing space. There was no conception in this of a kind of abstract, uniform, dimensional space in which bodies might potentially be placed.

The Renaissance marked a change, giving rise to a conception of space that still informs our world today.

'The way we think about space, consciously and unconsciously, is profoundly associated with the way that space has come to be represented in Western art from the time of the invention of linear perspective in the Renaissance. The dominant schema of visualization is what might be called the cubic unit, potentially extensible to infinity, but for the most part related to the finite spaces we inhabit inside the predominantly urban environments that house increasing numbers of the world's population'
Kemp (2006), p13


Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) and Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) are often credited with the invention of linear perspective. Both were architects (and Alberti also a painter and sculptor). It is surely significant that Alberti, having defined a way of representing such extensible space, based upon the grid and the cube, produces plans for the building of a whole town - a radical idea.

'He thinks of architecture entirely as a civic activity...From architecture the city derives its splendid public buildings, its private houses, and the monuments which keep alive the memory of its great men... [Alberti] proposes a scheme for the building of an entire town, and every detail in his suggestions is made subordinate to the main design of the town as a whole.'
Blunt (1962), p7.

Blunt, A (1962). Artistic theory in Italy: 1450-1600. Oxford: Oxford Univ Press
Bordo, S (1987). The Flight to Objectivity: Essays on Cartesianism and Culture. Albany: State U of New York P
Kemp, M (2006). Seen / Unseen: Art, science and intuition from Leonardo to the Hubble Telescope. Oxford: Oxford Univ Press

Space in the Renaissance

external image Duccio_Maest%C3%A0.jpg
Duccio di Buoninsegna, c1308-11. The Maesta, painting on wooden panel, 396x213cm. Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana del Duomo, Siena

Duccio was active in Sienna during the early years of the Italian Renaissance. His work, strongly influenced by Byzantine traditions, retains Mediaeval elements such as a certain flatness, along with increasing elements of naturalism and modelling of space.
Duccio's Maesta, 1308-11, the main altarpiece panel of which, measuring 396x213cm, is shown above, presents a surface with very imited elements of spatial depth. We do not inhabit the same space of Jesus and Mary and the Saints.

Mary is larger than the Saints to show her importance. Jesus is small to show that he is a child, and yet he is a miniature adult rather than the naturalistic baby depicted later on in the Renaissance.

external image EntryIntoJerusalem_Duccio_di_Buoninsegna.jpg
Duccio di Buoninsegna, (c1308-11) Christ's entry into Jerusalem, panel from the Maesta, Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana del Duomo, Siena

In this small panel from the Maesta, Christ and his disciples approach the gate to Jerusalem greeted by a crowd. Some naturalistic depiction of objects and space is employed, though not linear perspective. In the Mediaeval manner Christs's disciples are huddled together because they are a group, similarly the crowd at the gate.

This painting is reviewed by Andrew Graham Dixon, who suggests that the open door at the bottom of the painting is an invitation 'carrying as it does the suggestion that those who hold fast to their faith will also, one day, be permitted to enter the city of God.'

Leon Battista Alberti, De pictura and Elementa picture
Leon Battista Alberti, De pictura and Elementa picture

Leon Battista Alberti, 1518, De Pictura and Elementa, Picture
Based upon Alberti's ideas conceived in 1435

external image 1525.jpeg
Leonardo da Vinci, 1481, sketch for the Adoration of the Magi

'Perspective is the rein and rudder of painting' - Leonardo da Vinci

external image Leonardo_da_Vinci_Adoration_of_the_Magi.jpg
Leonardo da Vinci's unfinished painting - The Adoration of the Magi, c1481-2, underpainting on panel, 246.4 × 243.8 cm,
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Linear perspective is based upon a notion of space that is continuous and uniform - dimensional, with three dimensions at right-angles to one another - the grid and the cube that may be extended endlessly into infinity.

As Panofsky (1997) points out, there is a symbolic significance to this conception and representation of space. Today we take fixed point, linear perspective largely for granted and in our daily lives we are unaware of the degree to which it is a construction - an artifice.

McLuhan on Renaissance and contemporary space...

external image images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQZhiYSCNDYbBS6rQtGFC93nM1R-oQr662qP5H_pU1004Nn4zYmBxRrGg

Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore (1967) The medium is the massage.

'The Renaissance Legacy.

The Vanishing Point = Self-Effacement
The Detached Observer.
No Involvement!

The viewer of Renaissance art is systematically placed outside the frame of experience. A piazza for everything and everything in its piazza.

The instantaneous world of electric informational media involves al lof us, all at once. No detachment or frame is possible.'

McLuhan and Fiore (1967), p53

McLuhan M (1967). The medium is the massage. London: Penguin
Panofsky E. (1997). Perspective as symbolic form. New York: Zone Books


Microcosm and macrocosm

In the Renaissance deep connections existed at all levels, in an essentially magical view of creation (still unified with science initially).

The plan for a church was modelled on the crucified Christ. The microcosm of the body was mapped onto the macrocosm of the cosmos. Resemblance was a closer relationship than just appearing like' something else.
Cataneo, Quattro primi libri di architettura, 1544. Ideal plan for a city
Cataneo, Quattro primi libri di architettura, 1544. Ideal plan for a city

Cataneo, Ideal plan for a church. Quattro primi libri di architettura, 1544
Cataneo, Ideal plan for a church. Quattro primi libri di architettura, 1544

Robert Fludd, Utriusque cosmi, 1617
Robert Fludd, Utriusque cosmi, 1617

Further reading:
Blunt A, (1962). Artistic theory in Italy 1450-1600. Oxford: Oxford Univ Press
Foucault M, (2002). The order of things: an archeology of the human sciences. Oxford: Routledge Classics
Giedion S, (2008). Space, time & architecture: the growth of a new tradition. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard Univ Press
Kemp M, (2006). Seen | unseen: art, science and intuition from Leonardo to the Hubble telescope. Oxford: Oxford Univ Press