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“To See Clearly”

The Place of Relief in
Medieval Visual Culture

The Place of Relief in Medieval Visual Culture 119

his essay 1 investigates the place of relief sculpture in
the history of perspective by critically examining its role in Erwin Panofsky’s
teleological development of the representation of space in the visual arts, first
elaborated in his 1924 Perspective as Symbolic Form, in light of medieval opti-
cal theory and artistic production.2 Medieval sculpture plays a critical role in his teleology,
marking a distinct moment of stylistic change between antique wall painting and perspec-
tival painting in the Renaissance with the emergence of three-dimensional bodies in actual
space (i.e., independent of surface). But in a history that is primarily about the ascendancy
of Renaissance painters’ perspective, what function does sculpture really serve? This essay
explores this question through a close account of Panofsky’s history of perspective and
demonstrates how medieval sculpture entails a more complex and diverse picture of per-
spective than Panofsky allows in his emphasis on the construction of space in painting. I will
analyze diverse types of sculptural production in the Middle Ages at a range of locations to
demonstrate how they informed a history of perspective by structuring different kinds of
optical experiences for beholders on the ground. I argue that in better understanding relief’s
place in the history of perspective and medieval visual theory more generally, we can bet-
ter grasp the role of optics and illusionism in later medieval aesthetics. In doing so, I un-
derscore the enigmatic nature of relief in panel painting and frescoes, chiefly by Giotto and
followers, to address the elevated status of sculpture in medieval visual culture.
In section three of his perspective essay, Panofsky conceptualized distinct peri-
ods from the sixth century to the fourteenth in terms of progressive and regressive stylis-
tic change in the representation of space, or what he terms “recoils.” Each stage in this
stylistic teleology has a parallel development in the philosophy of space – and importantly
not in the history of optics or visual theory more specifically. Panofsky outlines this history
according to a relationship between, on the one hand, surface and depth, and on the other,
bodies and space. Both planarity and space mutually inform progressive styles from late
antiquity through the fifteenth century. As medieval art – the “greatest” recoil of all3 – ad-
vanced through the centuries, the more distant it became from antique perspective and the
greater the problem of creating homogeneous space on a planar surface existed. For ex-
ample, Panofsky argued that medieval art favored surface effects over spatial recession.

120 Christopher R. Lakey

The perspectival “ideal” evident in late antique painting “disintegrates” in sixth-century
mosaic work. In early Christian mosaics the surface is not a window through which we
see. It is filled with objects and bodies oriented toward the surface in a shallow field that
lacks spatial depth and atmosphere.4
The next step in this history concerns what Panofsky terms “the refashioning of
the world ... into a substantial and measurable world.”5 Forms only suggested space in me-
dieval representational models, but they did not encompass it. According to Panofsky,
between the tenth and twelfth centuries we can see a complete annihilation of spatial il-
lusionism: “surface ... is now merely surface, that is, no longer even the vague suggestion
of an immaterial space.” Romanesque art “destroyed” antique illusionism once and for all
in ways that Byzantine art did not.6 And it is from this point forward that medieval sculp-
ture plays a critical role in this refashioning, a process “carried out most vigorously in me-
dieval sculpture.” It is sculpture that anticipates the emancipation of space from surface in
Renaissance painting. Sculpture creates an “indissoluble unity” between bodies and space
(i.e., “the background surface”). “The Romanesque relief figure [is] a plastically devel-
oped wall.”7 Sculpture has three-dimensionality but is not fully formed, which, Panofsky
argues, is in stark contrast to the sculpture-in-the round of antiquity, where bodies exist
in space. Here, Panofsky identifies a moment in his stylistic history in which bodies and
space are “bound to each other, for better or for worse,” and in order to liberate them from
the surface, artists must make space grow along with the sculpted body via effects of light
and shadow, or in actual three-dimensions.
It is during the Gothic period that sculpture performs this liberation most vigor-
ously. According to Panofsky, the “relief figure is now no longer a body standing before a
wall or in a niche.” Figure and relief ground are “manifestations of one and the same sub-
stance” from which “emerges for the first time in Europe an architectural sculpture” not
“set in or on the building,” as in Romanesque examples, but a direct “development out of
the building material itself.”8 Gothic mass is differentiated into “quasi-corporeal forms”;
it allows statues to re-emerge “out of the wall as ... independently developed” structures
and relief figures “to resolve out of the ground almost like freestanding” sculpture.9 Once
this occurs, the “emancipation” of space from the surface follows. Space is now delimited
and assigned, like a statue underneath its baldachin as in this example of jamb figures from
the Portal of the Martyrs on the south porch of Chartres cathedral (c. 1225) (Fig. 23), or
the stage-like space of the Raumkasten (“space box”) found in reliefs such as the Last Sup-
per on the west choir screen at Naumburg Cathedral (c. 1245) (Fig. 24).10 This is a space
Panofsky described as “capable of unlimited extension,” a step toward actual infinity.11
Curiously, in Panofsky’s treatment of the fourteenth century, sculpture drops
out, as a coherent, “modern” perspectival space reappears. In the paintings of Giotto and

“To See Clearly” – The Place of Relief in Medieval Visual Culture 121
Figure 23. SS. Vin-
cent, Dennis, Piat, and
George, Martyr’s Por-
tal, South Porch,
Chartres Cathedral
(c. 1225).

122 Christopher R. Lakey

Figure 24. Last Sup-
per, West Choir
Screen, Naumburg
Cathedral (c. 1245).

Duccio a comprehensible spatial setting emerges in which bodies occupy space in a mod-
ern sense. What he calls a projection of the “space box” seen in Naumburg appears in the
frescos at the Arena Chapel, for example, where “closed interior spaces reappear for the
first time”12 since antiquity. This, in his words signified “a revolution in the formal as-
sessment of the representational surface.”13 These achievements mark the beginning of
the evolution of perspectival space, a familiar story, from the more or less correct experi-
ments of the Trecento to the construction of a geometrically sound perspectival space in-
vented in the fifteenth century.
Despite its importance in Panofsky’s teleology of perspective, relief sculpture
plays an uneasy role. As Christopher Wood has argued, the passages about sculpture in
Perspective as Symbolic Form are not really about perspective at all, at least as defined by

“To See Clearly” – The Place of Relief in Medieval Visual Culture 123
Panofsky at the beginning of the text.14 There, he considers the concept of perspective to
be the representation of a spatial continuum on a two-dimensional plane of projection,
building from Albrecht Dürer’s definition of perspective as “seeing through.” Panofsky
opens the essay explaining that,

“Item Perspectiva ist ein lateinisch Wort, bedeutt ein Durchsehung” (“Perspectiva is a Latin
word which means ‘seeing through.’”). This is how Dürer sought to explain the con-
cept of perspective. And although this lateinisch Wort was already used by Boethius,
and did not originally bear so precise a meaning, we shall nevertheless adopt in essence
Dürer’s definition.15

Dürer’s definition was based on Leon Battista Alberti’s notion of the negation of a surface
in favor of a window-like picture plane beholders could see through to a representation con-
structed with a high degree of optical veridicality.16 This definition is a thoroughly Renais-
sance one that privileges the art of painting above all other media, and is still current today.17
Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that relief sculpture from the tenth through the
fourteenth centuries does not fit comfortably into this model of perspective. As a medium,
medieval relief does not present a surface through which we see. Rather, relief’s representa-
tional status as an illusionistic hybrid of painting and sculpture depends on the degree of
depth of carving and the interplay of multiple surface levels to allow for the play of light and
shadow to create figures that appear truly in-the-round and fully embodied.
In Perspective as Symbolic Form Panofsky understands that another conception of
perspective existed, one that was more expansive than Alberti’s window and one, I argue,
that could comfortably include medieval sculpture. However, he relegates this alternate
definition to a footnote where he admits that Dürer’s understanding of perspective was
based on philological sleight of hand, explaining that the Latin term perspectiva should
derive from the verb perspicere, meaning “to see clearly” (“a literal translation of the Greek
term optikē”), not “to see through.”18 While these two concepts of perspective do not op-
erate side-by-side, in a later work Panofsky again offers a curious definition of perspec-
tive while maintaining the primacy of Alberti’s window. In Gothic Architecture and
Scholasticism, first delivered as the Wimmer Memorial Lecture in 1948 at Saint Vincent
College (Latrobe, PA), Panofsky, still speaking about the metamorphosis of surface into
window, argued that perspective “renders account, not only of what is seen but also of the
way it is seen under particular conditions.”19 Here, and in the footnotes of the perspective
essay, Panofsky leaves open the possibility that different concepts of perspective existed
before the Renaissance, though he would never flesh these possibilities out.
One way to consider these differences is in the language Panofsky chose to de-
fine perspective. To see something clearly and under certain, “particular” viewing condi-

124 Christopher R. Lakey

tions indicates the primacy of the clarity of vision in the relationship between subject and
object. Panofsky thus echoed a central tenet in the account of vision found in the me-
dieval optical tradition understood by the Perspectivists:20 namely, according to A. Mark
Smith, “the assumption that under certain normative threshold conditions, visual per-
ception is veridical – that is, it is possible for us to see things clearly and ‘correctly,’ as they
present themselves to us according to all their defining visible characteristics.”21 Or as
Roger Bacon put it in his Perspectiva (c. 1265), quia aliud est videre a longe, aliud discrete.22
Seeing objects at the correct distance, for example, and under the correct lighting condi-
tions, puts the burden on the beholder to find the correct standpoint in relationship to
the object of sight. These conditions form part of the Perspectivist language concerning
one’s relationship to things seen. As Katherine Tachau has demonstrated, appearance and
reality were at the heart of discussions about optics by the Perspectivists, which spilled
over, in one form or another, into diverse realms of medieval society.23 The influence of
Perspectivist optics can be felt in universities and monastic houses throughout Western
Europe: in the moral theological treatise written by Peter Limoges while at the University
of Paris, the Tractatus moralis de oculo (1275/76–1289), and in Dante Alighieri’s La div-
ina commedia (begun 1307), to take just two important examples.24
But such concepts as distance, standpoint, apparent size, and appearance versus
reality also constitute the formal language of relief sculpture before and after the flood of
Perspectivist accounts of geometrical optics. Relief is never quite what it seems. Figures
are never carved fully in-the-round though they can appear to be depending on one’s
standpoint. This suggests an equal burden is placed on the artist to fabricate forms that ap-
pear to us “correct” or more natural under certain viewing conditions, and Panofsky un-
derstood this fully well. (Again) in a footnote to his 1960 masterpiece Renaissance and
Renaissances in Western Art, Panofsky takes up the problem of medieval painters’ per-
spective and the perspectiva tradition from a similar vantage point as his earlier works, i.e.,
from the point of view of a dematerialized, painted surface. Here he makes a distinction
between this type of perspective and optical illusions in sculpture, though he does not
flesh this out in broader, comparative terms:

It should be noted that such cases of “optical illusions” in high-medieval art ... are not a
matter of projecting a design upon a painted surface but a matter of directly manipulat-
ing the elements that constitute the visual experience of the beholder.25

All of this raises questions about what an account of medieval perspective might look like
and what sculpture’s relationship to the history of perspective more broadly might be,
questions Panofsky gestured toward but never fully embraced, and questions this pres-
ent essay will provide answers to (however brief). Medieval sculptors manipulated forms

“To See Clearly” – The Place of Relief in Medieval Visual Culture 125
and surfaces in a variety of ways in order to present specific aspects and views of sculptured
figures and objects to beholders.
Take the use of isolated foreshortened forms via optical corrections, or optical re-
finements. Artists and architects have used this technique since antiquity to heighten the
illusion of certain figures or forms appearing correctly or more natural if seen from certain
standpoints typically from the ground.26 Though there are a few exceptions that I will dis-
cuss below, most studies of this type of perspective have focused on the work of Renais-
sance sculptors, like Donatello’s figures of St John the Evangelist (1408) and St Mark (c.
1411) designed for the façades of the cathedral of Florence and church of Orsanmichele,
Florence, respectively.27 However, an important example of this can be found at the cathe-
dral of Ferrara, in the relief of St George Killing the Dragon.
Constructed for the west façade in 1135, the tympanum relief designed by the
sculptor Niccolò and his workshop is one of the earliest calculated examples of optical nat-
uralism in monumental sculpture during the Middle Ages (Fig. 25).28 When viewed from

Figure 25. West

Façade, Ferrara

126 Christopher R. Lakey

below, the bodies of St George and the horse project robustly from the ground plane, giv-
ing the illusion of full corporeality and proportionality (Fig. 26). Here, the saint’s face and
body assume the idealized appearance of Ferrara’s chivalric protector, the victorious Chris-
tian martyr. The optical naturalism displayed in the St George relief can be seen most plainly
when a photograph taken from the ground is compared to photographs taken from a direct
line of sight (i.e., from a scaffold or ladder) by firms such as Alinari or Foto Marburg. These
photographs highlight certain formal elements of the work, such as an objective view of
the figure’s real scale, which was, and in some cases still is, the favored way of document-
ing sculpture.29 The Harvard art historian Arthur Kingsley Porter captured this specific
photograph of St George in the early twentieth century (Fig. 27) after studying the types of
photographs taken by Richard Hamann and his students at the Marburg Kunstinstitut.30
One crucial aspect of St George that becomes clear by a direct comparison is how soft and
rounded his face appears from below when in reality it is long and sharp.
Though produced some seventy years before Alhacen’s optical treatise was trans-
lated into Latin, the confluence of geometry and optics was not lost on twelfth-century
sculptors. The entire porch was designed both to protect and to focus attention onto the
sculptural program, and in this specific case, the boundaries of the porch established the
dimensions Niccolò needed to design the figure of St George using optical refinements.31
The size of the porch, roughly a 17 x 17 foot square bay, was based on the module used to
design the interior plan.32 The height of the tympanum from the interior porch is also
roughly 17 feet from the ground, which measure creates an ideal viewing angle of 45º
when an observer stands at the threshold of the porch 17 feet from the door, allowing the
entire tympanum sculpture to come into view. From here, both the saint and the lintel
decoration are fully legible. These measurements, in turn, allowed Niccolò and his team
to plan the sculptures with certain proportions and geometric measures in mind.
For instance, views based on consistent angles of vision were measured in rela-
tion to the portal and the area of the porch. The elongation of forms – such as St George’s
face – to compensate for foreshortening would have been planned and executed accord-
ing to current optical theory and practical geometry. The fact that Niccolò emphasized the
important spatial and proportional measurements between sculpture and beholders at
the design stage makes it clear he had knowledge of practical geometry, which in the
twelfth century was taught widely. Surviving geometric texts during this period, such as
Gerbert of Aurillac’s Geometria (c. 980) and Hugh of St Victor’s Practica geometriae (c.
1120), were based on Boethius’ translations of Euclid’s Elements and excerpts from agri-
mensores texts.33 Both of these treatises adhere to tenets of early medieval geometry,
namely they emphasize from the outset the importance of measuring. As Emanuele Lugli
has convincingly demonstrated recently, Gerbert’s treatise did not set out to define

“To See Clearly” – The Place of Relief in Medieval Visual Culture 127
Figure 26. Saint
George Killing the
Dragon, West Façade,
Ferrara Cathedral

Figure 27. Saint

George Killing the
Dragon, West Façade,
Ferrara Cathedral
(1135). Special
collections, Fine Arts
Library, Harvard

abstract geometric principles. Rather, he “opens his geometrical treatise ... by defining
measuring as the preliminary step for any inquiries into geometric principles.”34 Further-

128 Christopher R. Lakey

more, the importance of measuring is at times explained in relationship to the sense of
sight. In Hugh’s Practica geometriae, he explains that the relationship between people and
the objects they see from below generates a “triangular form” (trianguli formam), “from
the spot where sight first perceives the object rising in the distance.”35 Hugh makes sure
to note that this way of seeing is natural (naturaliter).36 That is, it takes place at ground level
without assistance. Thus, at Ferrara the manipulation of forms in order to appear correct
or more natural within this visual triangle was likely part of the planning process since the
figures would not have been carved directly on the porch. Once installed, the saint’s pudgy
face and awkward body would resolve optically into more natural forms.
Tuscan sculptors Nicola and Giovanni Pisano used this type of optical natural-
ism as well as other ingenious techniques of sculptural perspective to direct and control
the viewing conditions of their monumental works and those in smaller formats. Nicola
and Giovanni produced a series of pulpits from 1260 through 1310 in Pisa, Pistoia, and
Siena, and in some of the relief panels they used optical corrections to compensate for
foreshortening. Take for example Nicola’s Adoration of the Magi panel produced in 1260
for the Pisa Baptistery pulpit.37 Here, as Marvin Trachtenberg has demonstrated, differ-
ences arise when the panel is viewed frontally from the ground as opposed to a direct line
of sight. Besides the general flattening of the various levels of relief, the scale of the Virgin
comes into better accord with the panel’s dimensions, and, as Trachtenberg explains, the
perspective “resolves such oddities as the distorted horses, which take on a more natural,
coherent appearance.”38
I agree with Trachtenberg’s reading of this panel and the effects of perspective it
demonstrates; however, I question whether the frontal point of view was in fact privileged
in this case. One could easily argue that Nicola was just as concerned with other points of
view. In the Pisa pulpit, as well as the others designed by himself and his son Giovanni, he
sought to exploit the tension between different views through the use of oblique lines of
sight and the degree of depth carving (Fig. 28).39 In the Pisan Adoration panel, Nicola con-
trolled the viewing conditions of this panel by focusing attention on the most important fig-
ures – Mary and Christ – to create a narrative whose spatial logic could only be determined
by mobile viewing. In this instance, I argue, the most dynamic viewing position is not from
the front at all, but from the side. A beholder would adopt this position as she or he ambu-
lated from left to right, from the Nativity to the Adoration. From this point of view the Vir-
gin and Christ seem more fully embodied, as the carving technique Nicola used enhances
the clarity of their three-dimensionality. The Virgin is carved in high relief and her body can
be understood frontally only from this point of view. From a position in front of the panel
she and Christ will always be in profile, but from this oblique perspective they confront be-
holders face-to-face implicating them as witnesses to Christ’s divinity.

“To See Clearly” – The Place of Relief in Medieval Visual Culture 129
Figure 28. Nicola
Pisano, Adoration of
the Magi, Pisa Baptis-
tery Pulpit (1260).

130 Christopher R. Lakey

In my final example of the variety of perspectival effects in medieval sculpture, I
look to the work of Arnolfo di Cambio, who should be understood as the master of illu-
sionism in sculpture before the Renaissance. As Angiola Maria Romanini and Trachten-
berg have convincingly argued, Arnolfo was highly attuned to problems associated with
the clarity of vision and created his sculptures with this in mind, something he no doubt
learned by working with the Pisani.40 For example, in a number of works originally de-
signed for the west façade of the medieval cathedral of Florence, Arnolfo was astutely
aware of the problem of distortion created by foreshortened forms and adopted tech-
niques – similar to those techniques found in Ferrara and Pisa I outlined above to deal
with such distortions. Both his statues of Boniface VIII and the Virgin, now in the Museo
dell Opera del Duomo (c. 1300), display elongated torsos and faces to compensate for a
viewing angle from the ground.41 However, in other works, he plays up the tension be-
tween appearance and reality in ingenious ways, by masking the true, shell-like nature of
a piece of marble by presenting the figure against a planar surface.
Arnolfo performs this type of optical naturalism most spectacularly in the tomb
of Guillaume de Bray, produced after the cardinal’s death in 1282. Here, he fashioned an
ensemble of highly naturalizing, life-like figures (Fig. 29). Created for the church of San
Domenico in Orvieto, the monument was moved from its original location to the south
transept in 1680, where it was massively reconstructed in 1934.42 Beginning at the top of
the 22 foot tall monument, the Virgin sits enthroned with the Christ Child on her lap. On
her right, St Mark presents de Bray to the Virgin, with St Dominic as witness to her left.
The cardinal lies beneath this group in his funeral chamber. Arnolfo positioned his body
upward at an oblique angle for beholders to better see his elderly, deceased body. Two
acolytes help this process by holding open curtains on either side of the cardinal. To mod-
ern eyes, this might not seem like a relief sculpture. But these figures are not finished in the
back.43 They are carved from thin marble slabs and positioned in front of a planar surface
creating the illusion of full-bodiedness that the beholder completes in vision.44 Much like
the Ferrarese relief of St George, the tension between statue and relief is played up by per-
spectival effects to trick beholders into thinking the figures are carved in the round when
in fact they are not.
The tensions of frontal and oblique views I have emphasized in relation to Nicola
Pisano’s Pisa pulpit are subtly present in this monument as well. The face of the cardinal
is presented to beholders in profile and at an oblique angle. It is almost impossible to a
catch a glimpse of the cardinal’s face from a frontal position. To do so would mean the be-
holder would have to view the effigy from an extreme oblique angle to the right of the
tomb (Fig. 30). From this position a beholder can see the cardinal’s deep-set eyes and

“To See Clearly” – The Place of Relief in Medieval Visual Culture 131
Figure 29. Arnolfo
Di Cambio, Monu-
ment of Cardinal De
Bray, San Domenico,
Orvieto (c. 1282).

foreshortened face in what amounts to a tour-de-force of sculptural illusionism by Arnolfo.

However, similar to the illusionism present in the body, which seems so voluminous and
rigid yet is no more than a marble shell, the right side of de Bray’s face is presented to

132 Christopher R. Lakey

Figure 30. Monu-
ment of Cardinal De
Bray (detail).

beholders with signs of his aging. Nevertheless, on the left side, the marble was not worked
to indicate any aging and simply remains polished because it was never meant to be visi-
ble to beholders.45
The analytical concepts around which I have framed my discussion of the rela-
tionships between relief sculpture and perspective – illusionism and surface effects, frontal
and oblique standpoints, correct distance – all resonated with medieval writers. The type
of relief sculpture that Arnolfo produced in the monument to Cardinal de Bray was de-
scribed in terms that spoke to its illusionism. In his Rationale divinorum officiorum of 1284,
William Durand of Mende compares the variety of paintings, sculptures, and reliefs dis-
played in a church to the diversity of virtues and analogizes “sculptures that project, seem-
ing to emerge out of the walls of the church” (sculpture prominentes de parietibus egredientes
ecclesie uidentur) to the virtues implanted in the faithful.46 Durand adapted this passage
from the popular, late twelfth-century liturgical manual, the Mitralis de officiis of Bishop
Sicardus of Cremona.47 Sicardus, born in 1155, witnessed first-hand the revival of monu-
mental sculpture in Italy by the likes of Niccolò of Ferrara and his contemporaries. Sicar-
dus’ description of sculptures seeming to emerge from walls was, according to Antje
Middeldorf Kosegarten, his own contribution to a long tradition of descriptions of the
Temple of Solomon, beginning with Jerome’s Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible and
continuing with Bede’s De templo (c. 731), inter alia.48 This speaks to contemporary sculp-
tural practices and Sicardus’ desire to embed them within a longer history.
Middeldorf Kosegarten was the first to suggest that Sicardus was responding to
the abundance of relief sculptures – like St George Killing the Dragon in Ferrara – that cov-

“To See Clearly” – The Place of Relief in Medieval Visual Culture 133
ered the outside and inside of Italian Romanesque churches.49 By describing the sculp-
tures and their planar surfaces (i.e., the walls), he underscores the differences between
figure and ground, or figure and plane, and the illusionism built into this type of repre-
sentation. That medieval authors described relief in terms of surface differentiation be-
tween figure and plane is not difficult to understand. In the most famous artistic manual
from the Latin West during the Middle Ages, Theophilus speaks to this as well. In his
twelfth-century De diversis artibus, he described the process of making repoussé works in
terms of differences between raised images and the planar surface of the gold or silver
plate, saying: Percute tabulam auream sive argenteam, quantae longitudinis et latitudineis
velis ad elevandas imagines.50
The relationship of difference between forms and surface is evident in these ex-
amples and informs the binary of touch and sight: forms are raised from the surface and
project from a plane, inviting beholders to touch them. They are not fully in the round,
and their full corporeality can only be understood optically. As we have seen, the impor-
tance of oblique lines of sight was not lost on artists using relief. Nor were they lost on
commentators of images, particularly authors of optical treatises. We can see how relief
played a role in this history by understanding that we perceive relief as a rough surface
and apprehend it as an apparent three-dimensional form. This notion held since the
scholastic intervention in optical theory when it was believed that the materiality of a
known object could be apprehended through the sense of sight.
We can track this concept by understanding how asperitas (roughness of a sur-
face) expressed a “visible intention,” or a characteristic, of an object, a notion introduced
by Alhacen and commented upon by many authors from the thirteenth through the fif-
teenth century.51 Alhacen (c. 1040), the medieval Islamic philosopher and scientist, ex-
plicated this idea while describing an incident when an observer looked at a sculpture with
subtle engravings (sculpture subtiles).52 In his Kitāb al-Manā, translated in the twelfth
century as De aspectibus, he explained how the luminosity and the color issuing from a
sculpted body reached the interior of the eye, stating that one could only observe these
markings if the object was tilted or inclined in some way. He notes that “when light reaches
the depressed portions, it will also create shadows, so the raised portions will be exposed
to light and revealed. If shadows are formed in the depressed portions, but no shadows
exist on the raised portions, the form of light will vary on the surface of that body.”53 Here,
Alhacen demonstrated how the material differentiation between body and surface, or pos-
sibly figure and ground, could be perceived in accordance with a change in the object’s po-
sition in relation to the eye, provided the observer was in the correct viewing position.
For Alhacen, asperitas was a visible characteristic that conveyed the material
make-up of the object to the eye and relayed a virtual image to the mind. We can easily un-

134 Christopher R. Lakey

derstand this in terms of relief, in terms of the surface’s relation to light and shadow: de-
pending on where the light falls in relationship to the hewn surface and the observer’s line
of sight, certain forms on the surface and in the planar field can be perceived as material.
The surface is not simply polished or flat, it is “in relief.” This idea was echoed in the work
of Witelo, whose 1275 Perspectiva Renaissance artists Lorenzo Ghiberti and Alberti
knew.54 In discussing how an observer apprehended material relief in a picture, he said
that “an excessive distance causes an error in the visual perception of roughness and
smoothness,” further noting that one needed the correct standpoint to perceive the object
and its visible characteristics correctly.55 Lastly, Roger Bacon warned that an object must
be viewed from the correct distance (from not too far or not too close), metaphorizing this
process in terms of the viewer’s own spirituality:

And just as moderate distance of the [visible] object is required for vision of that object
(thus the object must be viewed neither from an excessive nor from an insufficient dis-
tance), so the same thing is required spiritually, for remoteness from God through infi-
delity and a multitude of sins destroys spiritual vision, as do the presumption of excessive
familiarity with the divine and the [overly bold] investigation of divine majesty.56

The combination of all the particular characteristics – of roughness, distance, standpoint,

and corporeity, to name just a few – in the visual field determines the degree to which an
object was considered beautiful or ugly. An object’s looking right, or “natural” we might
say, is clearly a subjective judgment, but one that is based on a beholder’s understanding
of how the different parts of an object cohere into a single image under certain viewing
conditions. According to Alhacen and his followers, each visible intention created some
form of beauty. For example, corporeity creates beauty through the correct proportions
of the human body; distance creates beauty when forms are arranged in such a way as to
be seen clearly from a certain standpoint. Not only do these texts provide a vocabulary
with which we can understand contemporary ideas about relief in theoretical terms, but
also how they theorize objects and their make-up underscores, in turn, relationships be-
tween beholders and objects and the spaces they occupy.
Understood in this light, the ways in which sculptors took control over how their
figures and objects would be understood from certain vantage points takes on new force.
The different types of optical corrections and perspective effects used by sculptors – the
compensation for foreshortening; masking the true, shell-like nature of a piece of marble
by presenting the figure against a planar surface; and mapping the narrative onto the move-
ment of beholders through the manipulation of plastic forms – these all defined dynamic
encounters between beholder and sculpted image in aesthetic terms. These optical ad-
justments created certain proportional relationships between beholder and object based

“To See Clearly” – The Place of Relief in Medieval Visual Culture 135
Figure 31. Giotto, In- on distance, size, and scale and played a critical role in shaping the theory and practices of
justice, Arena Chapel,
Padua (c. 1305). late medieval and early Renaissance painting. Painters increasingly sought to adopted re-
lief’s aesthetic terms to their own practices and eventually would enfold these relation-
Figure 32. Giotto, ships into linear perspective demonstrations.
Feast at Cana, detail
of Christ’s halo, Arena By accounting for these relationships between relief sculptures and beholders on
Chapel, Padua (c. the ground we can also begin to clarify and redefine the emergence of perspective in paint-
ing in the early Renaissance. Again the picture is not as clear as Panofsky would have it.
Late medieval painting in Italy contained a version of material relief that incorporated
spatial and tactile refinements into their work adopted from the process of carving. Tre-
cento artists like Giotto used material relief to create tensions between perspective pro-
jection and surface effects. At the Arena Chapel, for example, Giotto uses material relief
in frescoes of both Justice and Injustice, the fictive niche sculptures projected onto the pic-
ture plane. Here, the scenes playing out underneath them project from the surface of the
wall. The surface is built up to such a degree that you can actually see its dimensionality

136 Christopher R. Lakey

Figure 33. Master
of San Francesco,
Crucifixion, San
Francesco, Arezzo
(late 13th century).

when you are standing in front of the painting or if you see them under certain lighting
conditions (Fig. 31). If this were the only example of Giotto’s use of material relief, we
might be able to write it off as pure decoration; however, his use of relief in the divine fig-
ures’ haloes created similar effects. The haloes here are sculptural forms that signify im-
material truths – divine light (Fig. 32). We should understand this as constitutive of
meaning, rather than purely decorative – and there are over 200 of these reliefs in the
Arena Chapel alone, and many other examples of this, including liturgical art such as
painted Crucifixions (Fig. 33). In this way, I believe we can understand how painters used
sculpture as a model, whether or not because of the medium’s “higher claim on reality,”
as Jeffrey Hamburger has recently argued, or for purely aesthetic purposes.57 Either way
– or perhaps taken together – the imitation of sculpture in late medieval Italian painting
cannot be denied, though it is rarely emphasized.58
Importantly, the relief used by Giotto and others painters of this period places
their work firmly in relation to artistic theories of the late Trecento and early Quattro-

“To See Clearly” – The Place of Relief in Medieval Visual Culture 137
cento. Relief here functions as the critical hinge joining the mediums of sculpture and
painting. Just prior to Alberti, the term rilievo was used to designate a kind of sculpted ob-
ject in a picture, a projected form from a surface.59 When Alberti codified linear perspec-
tive in 1435, he laid out a concept of rilievo in relation to perspective. The term rilievo,
however, was a transmutation of Latin terms, such as exsculptum, insculptum, and asperi-
tas, which all mean to physically extend from a surface. When Alberti translated these
terms, he also inverted their primary meaning. For rilievo came to signal not the three-di-
mensional jutting out of forms – forms that break the picture plane as in the works by
Giotto – but rather a two-dimensional system of representation to seem three-dimen-
sional via modeling in black and white. The degree of an object’s rilievo was one of the
markers of success of a linear perspective painting.60 This is of course an old technique
we can find in the earlier recipe books from the Middle Ages and one that even appeared
in scholastic commentaries on Aristotle’s De anima, such as those by Nicole Oresme
around 1350.61
To take seriously the advancement of spatial naturalism ascribed to Giotto and
his followers, we also need to find ways in which these sculptural processes can be a part
of the narrative. This is important because in the art historical account bequeathed to us
by Panofsky and others, Giotto’s legacy as a painter is of course tied to his mastery of nat-
uralism, that certain life-likeness of his figures in space, and to his mastery of relief. He
has long been praised as the harbinger of Renaissance painterly aesthetics, especially for
the plastic nature of his bodies in space, his imitation of nature, and his supposed com-
mitment to the plane of projection, or what Panofsky called the “revolution in the formal
assessment of the representational surface.”62 According to this account, it is beginning
with Giotto that we find the contours of bodies to follow a strictly “sculptural” trajectory,
as the degree of relief becomes more and more refined. What is too often overlooked in
this narrative is how material relief functioned in fresco work and panel painting, and why
these sculpted forms are there at all. These are not simply paintings, in the modern sense,
as in Panofsky’s definition. These are complex and multi-dimensional images that respond
dynamically to beholders in a particular space and participate in a broad definition of per-
spective, one that in many fruitful ways corresponds to the language and epistemological
stakes we find in the medieval Perspectivist tradition and its authors.

138 Christopher R. Lakey

the cone of radiation circumscribed by Cf. Optics of Ibn al-Haytham, trans. Sabra, CHRISTOPHER R. LAKEY
the pupil propagates its form along 1: 138–207 (esp. 138–48). “To See Clearly” – The Place of Relief in
oblique rays to all points on the lens that 23 On the process of intuitio, see Alhacen’s Medieval Visual Culture
are exposed to it, the resulting infinitude Theory, ed. and trans. Smith, 2: 512–21. 1 I would like to thank Jacqueline Jung,
of single, radial impressions is interpreted Cf. Optics of Ibn al-Haytham, trans. Sabra, Pippa Salonius, Nick Thompson, Joanne
according to a virtual perpendicular ray 1: 208–16. Bloom and Amanda Bowen at the Har-
that links the object point to the center of 24 On the formation of universal forms, see vard Fine Arts Library, and the Com-
sight. As a result, the entire field of view is Alhacen’s Theory, ed. and trans. Smith, 2: mune di Padova for assistance with
seen according to a cone that consists of 521–29. Cf. Optics of Ibn al-Haytham, obtaining and using photographs for this
real and virtual rays, so the visual impres- trans. Sabra, 1: 216–24. For an overview project. I would further like to extend my
sion based on those rays is in perfect of Alhacen’s entire theory of visual per- gratitude to the editors for their com-
point-to-point correspondence with that ception, see Smith, Sight to Light, 181– ments and suggestions on earlier drafts of
field. One benefit of adducing this cone, 227; see also Abdelhamid I. Sabra, this essay.
partly real and partly virtual, is that, con- “Sensation and Inference in Alhazen’s 2 Erwin Panofsky, “Die Perspektive als
trary to what Belting asserts, Alhacen’s Theory of Visual Perception,” in Studies ‘symbolische Form,’” in Vorträge der Bib-
eye does not act like a camera obscura be- in Perception: Interrelations in the History liothek Warburg, 1924–1925, ed. Fritz Saxl
cause it is expressly designed not to inter- of Philosophy and Science, ed. Peter K. (Leipzig, 1927), 258–330, at 274–77;
pret radiation entering the pupil in Machamer and Robert G. Turnbull translated as Perspective as Symbolic Form,
inverted order according to rays that in- (Columbus, OH, 1978), 160–85. trans. Christopher S. Wood (New York,
tersect after traversing the pupil. For Al- 25 Belting, Florence and Baghdad, 108. 1991).
hacen’s account of peripheral vision 26 For some discussion of this point, see A. 3 Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form,
according to refracted radiation, see Mark Smith, “What is the History of Me- 47: “And between antiquity and the mod-
Alhacen on Refraction, ed. and trans. dieval Optics Really About?,” Proceedings ern times stands the Middle Ages, the
Smith, 2: 301–7; see also Smith, Sight to of the American Philosophical Association greatest of those ‘recoils.’”
Light, 215–18. 148 (2004): 180–94. 4 Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form,
21 On the passage of the visible form from 27 See note 20 above. 48: “The apparent succession of forms
the lens to the optic chiasma, see Alha- 28 For Bacon’s actual accommodation of Al- into depth gives way again to superposi-
cen’s Theory, ed. and trans. Smith, 2: 417– hacen’s visual theory to species theory tion and juxtaposition. The individual
29; on image fusion, see ibid., 562–66. Cf. and to Avicenna’s model of five “internal pictorial elements, whether figures, build-
Optics of Ibn al-Haytham, trans. Sabra, 1: senses” or psychological faculties, see his ings or landscape motifs, until now partly
114–26 and 228–31. Alhacen is clear that Perspectiva, in Roger Bacon and the Origins the contents, partly the composition of a
this passage through the eye is not strictly of Perspectiva in the Middle Ages, ed. and coherent spatial system, are transmuted
governed by optical principles. Accord- trans. David C. Lindberg (Oxford, 1996), into forms which, if not yet completely
ingly, he argues in book 2 that the vitre- 5–93. See also Smith, Sight to Light, 260– leveled, are at least entirely oriented to-
ous humor is endowed with a particular 65; idem, “Getting the Big Picture in Per- ward the plane.”
“receptive capacity” (virtus recipiens) that spectivist Optics,” Isis 72 (1981): 568–89. 5 Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form,
enables it to maintain the arrangement of 29 For the persistence of this model of visual 49.
the visible form refracted into it from the perception and cognition to the time of 6 Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form,
lens and thereby override the tendency of Johannes Kepler at the beginning of the 50–51.
insentient transparent bodies to allow seventeenth century, see Smith, Sight to 7 Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form,
such forms to propagate in all possible di- Light, 249–55. 52: “Sculpture, too, creates an indissolu-
rections through them; see Alhacen’s The- 30 Not only is Belting’s analysis of Alhacen ble unity between figures and their spatial
ory, ed. and trans. Smith, 2: 421; cf. Ibn badly flawed by misinterpretation and environment, that is, the background sur-
al-Haytham’s Optics, trans. Sabra, 1: 117– misunderstanding, but it is also rife with face, with the difference that this unity
18. factual errors; see my review of Florence does not preclude three-dimensional
22 On the twenty-two visible intentions and and Baghdad in Journal of the Economic swelling forward of form.”
the distinction between light and color, as and Social History of the Orient 56 (2013): 8 Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form,
per se visible, and the rest, as inferentially 523–26; see also the review by Do- 52.
visible, see Alhacen’s Theory, ed. and minique Raynaud in Isis 103 (2012): 9 Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form,
trans. Smith, 2: 438–512 (esp. 438–48). 570–72. 52–53.

Notes to pages 000–000 183

10 For an overview of the sculptures at 19 Erwin Panofsky, Gothic Architecture and 25 Erwin Panofsky, Renaissance and Re-
Chartres cathedral, see Brigitte Kur- Scholasticism (Latrobe, PA, 1951), 16. nascences in Western Art (Stockholm,
mann-Schwarz and Peter Kurmann 20 Generally speaking, the Perspectivist 1960), 138n2. My emphasis.
Chartres: La Cathédrale, trans. Thomas tradition includes the thirteenth-cen- 26 The paradigmatic example of how and
de Kayser (Saint-Léger-Vauban, 2001). tury Latin translations of and commen- why this technique might have been used
On the sculptural program on the west taries on Alhacen’s eleventh-century in classical art is the Panathenaic frieze at
choir screen at Naumburg, see Jacqueline Kitāb al-Manāẓir by Roger Bacon, John the Parthenon. See Richard Stillwell,
E. Jung, The Gothic Screen: Space, Sculp- Peckham, and Witelo, though many “The Panathenaic Frieze: Optical Rela-
ture, and Community in the Cathedrals of others writers contributed as well. The tions,” Hesperia 38 (1969): 231–41;
France and Germany, ca. 1200–1400 bibliography on this is too vast to ac- Clemente Marconi, “The Parthenon
(Cambridge, UK, 2013). count for here, but see especially David Frieze: Degrees of Visibility,” RES: An-
11 Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form, C. Lindberg, Theories of Vision from Al- thropology and Aesthetics 55/56 (2009):
54. Kindi to Kepler (Chicago, 1976); A. 156–73. Vitruvius also spoke to this type
12 Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form, Mark Smith, “Getting the Big Picture in of illusionism in architecture and sceno-
54. Perspectivist Optics,” Isis 72 (1981): graphic painting. See, most recently, Fil-
13 Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form, 568–89; Katherine H. Tachau, Vision ippo Camerota, “Optics and the Visual
55. and Certitude in the Age of Ockham: Op- Arts: The Role of ‘Skenographia,’” in
14 Christopher Wood, “Introduction,” in tics, Epistemology, and the Foundations of Homo Faber: Studies on Nature, Technol-
Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form, Semantics, 1250–1345 (Leiden, 1988); ogy, and Science at the Time of Pompeii, ed.
20: “It is telling that philology is some- Dominique Raynaud, L’Hypothèse Jürgen Renn and Giuseppe Castagnetti
how less disruptive in those passages of d’Oxford: Essai sur les origines de la per- (Rome, 2002), 121–41.
the perspective essay on medieval sculp- spective (Paris, 1998). 27 The work of Robert Munman is impor-
ture. Since here the topic is not really per- 21 A. Mark Smith, “The Measure of Vision tant in this regard. See, among other
spective at all, the analysis can proceed in the Middle Ages,” in La misura / Meas- works, Optical Corrections in the Sculpture
outside the dominion of the perspectival uring, ed. Agostino Paravicini Bagliani of Donatello (Philadelphia, 1985).
heuristic model.” (Florence, 2011), 201–10, at 201–2. 28 Optical naturalism is a term developed by
15 Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form, 22 Roger Bacon and the Origins of Perspectiva David Summers to account for the long
27. in the Middle Ages: A Critical Edition and history of virtual space in representation
16 Alberti first introduces the metaphor of English Translation of Bacon’s Perspectiva, – both in sculpture and painting – that
the window in De Pictura 1.19, ed. and with Introduction and Notes, ed. and trans. depends on the confluence of geometry
trans. Rocco Sinisgalli, in Il Nuovo De Pic- David C. Lindberg (Oxford; New York, and optics in a wide variety of cultural
tura di Leon Battista Alberti / The New De 1996), 168–69: “For it is one thing to see practices (including medieval). See Real
Pictura of Leon Battista Alberti (Rome, far, another to see clearly.” Spaces: World Art History and the Rise of
2006), 143: “Principio in superficie pin- 23 See Tachau, Vision and Certitude; eadem, Western Modernism (London, 2003);
genda, quam amplum libeat quadrangu- “In the Ambit of Another Faculty: idem, “The Archaeology of Appearance
lum rectorum angulorum inscribo, quo Parisian Theologians and the as Paradox,” in Paradoxes of Appearing:
quidem mihi pro aperta fenestra est ... .” (Meta)physical Universe,” in Learning In- Essays on Art, Architecture, and Philosophy,
17 See the examples of two recent books on stitutionalized: Teaching in the Medieval ed. Michael Asgaard Andersen and Hen-
the long history of perspective: Samuel Y. University, ed. John Van Engen (Notre rik Oxvig (Baden, Switzerland, 2009),
Edgerton, The Mirror, the Window, and Dame, IN, 2000), 129–60. 26–55.
the Telescope: How Renaissance Linear 24 See Peter of Limoges, The Moral Treatise 29 On photography and its effects on art his-
Perspective Changed Our Vision of the Uni- on the Eye, trans. Richard Newhauser tory in general and medieval sculpture in
verse (Ithaca, 2009), and Anne Friedberg, (Toronto, 2012). There has been much particular, see Angela Matyssek, Kunst-
The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Mi- written on the influence of optical theory geschichte als fotografische Praxis: Richard
crosoft (Cambridge, MA, 2006). and Dante. See especially, Suzanne Con- Hamann und Foto Marburg (Berlin,
18 Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form, klin Akbari, Seeing through the Veil: Opti- 2008); Jacqueline E. Jung, “Moving View-
75–76n3. It should be noted that both cal Theory and Medieval Allegory ers, Moving Pictures: The Portal as Mon-
definitions of perspicere appear in Lewis (Toronto, 2004); Alessandro Parronchi, tage on the Strasbourg South Transept,”
and Short, A Latin Dictionary, s.v. “La perspettiva Dantesca,” Studi Dan- in Mouvement, Bewegung: Über die dy-
perspicio. teschi 36 (1959): 5–103. namischen Potenziale der Kunst, ed. An-

184 Notes to pages 000–000

dreas Beyer and Guillaume Cassegrain Geometrie II: Ein mathematisches 37 On the history of the Pisa Baptistery pul-
(Berlin, 2015), 23–43. Lehrbuch des Mittelalters, ed. Menso Folk- pit, see Eloise M. Angiola, “Nicola Pisano,
30 Arthur Kingsley Porter did not publish erts (Wiesbaden, 1970); Practical Geome- Federigo Visconti, and the Classical Style
this photograph of the Ferrara relief, try in the High Middle Ages: Artis cuiuslibet in Pisa,” Art Bulletin 59.1 (1977): 1–27.
though it was taken during one of his pho- consummatio and the Pratike de geometrie, 38 Marvin Trachtenberg, Dominion of the
tographic campaigns of Italian architec- ed. and trans. Stephen K. Victor Eye: Urbanism, Art, and Power in Early
ture and sculpture. The photographic (Philadelphia, 1979); Evgeny A. Zaitsev, Modern Florence (Cambridge, UK, 1997),
results of these trips made up the illustra- “The Meaning of Early Medieval Geome- 185–89. Trachtenberg published two
tive portions of both Lombard try: From Euclid and Surveyors’ Manuals photographs of this panel, one taken from
Architecture, 4 vols. (New Haven, 1915– to Christian Philosophy,” Isis 90.3 the ground and a stock photograph taken
1917) and Romanesque Sculpture of the Pil- (1999): 522–53. For Hugh of St Victor, from scaffolding. For Nicola’s attention
grimage Roads, 10 vols. (Boston, 1923). see Practical Geometry: Practica geome- to beholders and the sequencing of the
For A.K. Porter and Marburg, see Kathryn triae, trans. Frederick A. Homann (Mil- panels, see also Maria Laura Cristiani
Brush, “Marburg, Harvard, and Purpose- waukee, 1991); Hugonis de Sancto Victore Testi, Nicola Pisano: Architetto, Scultore
Built Architecture for Art History, 1927,” Opera propaedeutica: Practica geometriae, (Pisa, 1987).
in Art History and Its Institutions: Founda- De grammatica, Epitome Dindimi in 39 Due to space I cannot take up examples
tions of a Discipline, ed. Elizabeth Mans- philosophiam, ed. Roger Baron (Notre of similar techniques used by Giovanni
field (London, 2002), 65–84; Christopher Dame, IN, 1966). For the agrimensores Pisano, specifically in the prophet and
R. Lakey, “Contingencies of Display: Ben- tradition, see Lucio Toneatto, Codices sibyl figures located on the Siena cathe-
jamin, Photography, and the Imagining of artis mensoriae: I manoscritti degli antichi dral façade (c. 1284) and in his Pistoia
the Medieval Past,” in Imagined Encoun- opuscoli latini d’agrimensura (V–XIX sec), pulpit in Sant’Andrea (1300). For this,
ters, ed. Roland Betancourt, special issue 1: Tradizione diretta il Medioevo (Spoleto, see Jules Lubbock, Storytelling in Chris-
of postmedieval: a journal of medieval cul- 1994). For Gerbert’s geometrical writings tian Art from Giotto to Donatello (New
tural studies 7 (2016): 81–95. see Gerberti Opera mathematica (972– Haven; London, 2006); and, Munman,
31 For the iconography of the porch sculp- 1003), ed. Nikolaĭ Mikhaĭlovich Bubnov Optical Corrections.
ture at Ferrara, see especially Dorothy (Berlin, 1899; reprint Hildesheim, 1963). 40 Romanini calls this phenomenon a “crite-
Glass, “Otage de l’historiographie: l’Ordo 34 Emanuele Lugli, “Squarely Built: An In- rio di visibiltà.” See Angiola Maria Ro-
prophetarum en Italie,” trans. Marie- quiry into the Sources of Ad Quadratum manini, “Nuove ipotesi su Arnolfo di
Hélène Debiès, Cahiers de civilisation Geometry in Lombard Architecture be- Cambio,” Arte Medievale 1 (1983): 157–
médiévale 44 (2001): 259–73; Christine tween the Eleventh and the Twelfth Cen- 202.
Verzár, “The Artistic Patronage of the Re- turies,” in Space in the Medieval West: 41 Trachtenberg, Dominion of the Eye, 189–
turning Crusaders: The Arm of St. Places, Territories, and Imagined Geogra- 93.
George and Ferrara Cathedral,” in Im- phies, ed. Meredith Cohen and Fanny 42 On the tomb, see especially the essays in
magine e Ideologia: Studi in onore di Arturo Madeline (Farnham, UK; Burlington, Arnolfo di Cambio: Il monumento del Car-
Carlo Quintavalle, ed. Arturo Calzona, VT, 2014), 34. dinale Guillaume de Bray dopo il restauro,
Roberto Campari, and Massimo Mussini 35 Hugh of St Victor, Practica geometriae 1, ed. Angiola Maria Romanini, Volume
(Milan, 2007), 240–47. ed. Baron, 22; Practical Geometry, trans. Speciale Bollettino d’Arte (2009) (Flo-
32 These measurements are all based on my Homann, 39: “Ex eo namque loco ubi rence, [2010]); Julian Gardner, The
fieldwork at Ferrara. I determined the re- prospectus primum emergentem eminus Tomb and the Tiara: Curial Tomb Sculp-
lationship between the porch, which is altitudinem comprehendit, triangulus se ture in Rome and Avignon in the Later Mid-
still decidedly medieval, and the interior format.” dle Ages (Oxford; New York, 1992),
module based on a scaled comparison be- 36 Hugh of St Victor, Practica geometriae 1, 95–102.
tween it and existing plans of the me- ed. Baron, 22; Practical Geometry, trans. 43 This was first noted by Enrico Paniconi,
dieval fabric of the cathedral. On the Homann, 39: “Quodcumque eminens in Monumento al Cardinale de Bray nella
archeological and architectural history of prospectu constitutum fuerit trianguli chiesa di S. Domenico in Orvieto (Rome,
the medieval cathedral, see Guido formam effingit, cuius kathetus ipsa alti- 1906), cited by Gardner, Tomb and Tiara,
Castagnoli, Il Duomo di Ferrara (Ferrara, tudo est, basis autem planities, que a 99. Gardner attributes this to Arnolofo’s
1895). radice katheti in directum eousque pro- practical concern with the weight of the
33 On the history of geometric treatises in tenditur quo naturaliter ipsa eminens alti- figures, which is most certainly true. But
the early Middle Ages, see “Boethius” tudo uisum admittit.” the psychological effect this has on be-

Notes to pages 000–000 185

holders cannot be denied. Psychologi- Translation and Commentary, of the First lish Translation,” PhD dissertation, Uni-
cally we understand these figures as pos- Three Books of Alhacen’s De aspectibus, ed. versity of Missouri-Columbia (2003),
sessing full-roundness, complete and trans. A. Mark Smith (Philadelphia, 564–66: “Superflua etiam longitudo dis-
embodiment, which is part of their claim 2001), 1: 6 (2: 345): “Et iterum quando tantie errorem ingerit visioni asperitatis et
on illusionism. aspiciens aspexerit corpus tersum et lenitatis.”
44 Unfortunately, I could not obtain permis- fuerint in illo corpore sculpture subtiles 56 Bacon, Perspectiva, 3.3.2, ed. Lindberg,
sion to reproduce photographs published et non fuerint ille sculpture diversorum 326–27: “Et sicut distantia corporis tem-
during the latest restoration that demon- colorum a colore corporis sed fuerint ex perata requiritur ad visionem corporis, ut
strate this phenomenon most clearly. See colore illius corporis.” Smith’s is a critical nec ex superflua distantia videatur nec ex
the photographs taken by Abbrescia San- edition of the Latin manuscripts, not the nimia appropinquatione, sic spiritualiter
tinelli that accompany Arnolfo di Cambio, Arabic. For a translation of the Arabic exigitur in hac parte, nam elongatio a Deo
the 2009 special issue of the Bolletino text, see The Optics of Ibn Al-Haytham, per infidelitatem et multitudinem pecca-
d’Arte cited above, especially plates 4–27. Books I–III, On Direct Vision, trans. Ab- torum tollit visionem spiritualem, et
45 It is difficult to capture this in a photo- delhamid I. Sabra, 2 vols. (London, nichilominus presumptio nimie familiari-
graph because one would need to adopt a 1989). tatis divine et perscrutatio maiestatis.”
bird’s eye view of the figure that is impos- 53 Alhacen (Ibn Al-Haytham), De 57 Jeffrey Hamburger, “Seeing and Believ-
sible unless it is taken out of its architec- aspectibus, 2.3.189, in Alhacen’s Theory of ing: The Suspicion of Sight and the Au-
tural home. See Santinelli’s photographs, Visual Perception, ed. and trans. Smith, 1: thentication of Vision in Late Medieval
cited above. 199 (2: 500): “Asperitas vero compre- Art and Devotion,” in Imagination und
46 William Durand of Mende, Rationale divi- henditur a visu in maiori parte ex forma Wirklichkeit: Zum Verhältnis von mentalen
norum officiorum 1.3.22, ed. Anselme lucis apparentis in superficie corporis as- und realen Bildern in der Kunst der frühen
Davril, Timothy M. Thibodeau, and peri, quoniam asperitas est diversitas Neuzeit, ed. Klaus Krüger and Alessandro
Bertrand G. Guyot, CCCM 140 (Turn- situs partium superficiei corporis, quare Nova (Mainz, 2000), 47–69, at 53: “The
hout, 1995), 41–42. lux, quando orietur super superficiem il- ultimate conceit of van Eyck’s art is not
47 Sicard of Cremona, Sicardi Cremonensis lius corporis, partes prominentes facient simply that it rivals nature or asserts the
episcopi Mitralis de officiis 1.12, ed. Gábor umbram in maiori parte. Et cum lux per- superiority of painting over sculpture. In
Sarbak and Lorenz Weinrich, CCCM 228 venerit ad partes profundas, erunt cum ea addition to the paragone between media,
(Turnhout, 2008), 51. etiam umbre, et partes prominentes erunt there is another implicit comparison be-
48 Antje Middeldorf Kosegarten, “Remarks manifeste luci et discooperte luci. Et cum tween God’s Creation and the artist’s cre-
on Some Medieval Descriptions of Sculp- in partes profundas venerint umbre, et ation, between the Deus artifex and the
ture,” in Santa Maria del Fiore: The super prominentes etiam non fuerit ali- artifex as such. Van Eyck’s images, by imi-
Cathedral and Its Sculpture, ed. Margaret qua umbra, diversabitur forma lucis in su- tating, but then surpassing, traditional
Haynes (Fiesole, 2001), 19–46. perficie illius corporis.” forms of sacral art, lay claim to supernatu-
49 Kosegarten, “Remarks,” 38–40: “I would 54 See Eva Tea, “Witelo: Prospettico del se- ral power, presence, and perfection. Van
like to venture the idea that Sicard had in colo XIII,” L’Arte, Rivista di storia dell’arte Eyck’s pictures count on, even as they
mind the rich narrative relief decorations medioevale e moderna 30 (1927): 3–30. counter, the medieval notion that three-
of Lombard cathedrals of his time.” Ghiberti names Witelo as a source in I dimensional images, be they reliquaries
50 Theophilus, The Various Arts: De diversis commentarii, 3.2.3, ed. Lorenzo Bartoli, in or cult statues, had a higher claim on real-
artibus 3.74, ed. and trans. C.R. Dodwell I commentarii (Biblioteca nazionale cen- ity than a mere picture.”
(London, 1961), 131–32: “Beat out a trale di Firenze, II, I, 333) (Rome, 1998), 58 To take just one example, the use of relief
gold or silver plate, of the length and 100: “E però moltissimi phylosophi an- in Giotto’s frescoes of the Arena Chapel
breadth you want for bringing the figures tichi mathematici, come fu ... Tolomeo, generally goes unnoticed by scholars,
into relief.” Vitulone nel secondo libro e moltri altri with few exceptions. Most work on this
51 There are twenty-two visible intentions, dottori.” Famously, Alberti does not topic comes out of conservation reports
including distance, position, beauty, ugli- name his sources, but it has long been as- of the recent restorations. See the essays
ness, and corporeity. See Smith, “Big Pic- sumed that Witelo was one of them. in Giotto nella Cappella Scrovegni: Materi-
ture,” 583–84. 55 Witelo, Perspectiva 4.141, ed. and trans. ali per la tecnica pittorica, ed. Giuseppe
52 Alhacen (Ibn Al-Haytham), De aspectibus Carl J. Kelso, Jr., in “Witelonis Perspecti- Basile, Volume Speciale Bollettino D’Arte
1.4.11, in Alhacen’s Theory of Visual Per- vae Liber Quartus/Book IV of Witelo’s (Rome, 2005). I explore this topic more
ception: A Critical Edition, with English Perspectiva: A Critical Edition and Eng- fully in Lakey, “The Materiality of Light

186 Notes to pages 000–000

in Medieval Italian Painting,” in Medieval gan Academician 9 (1977): 329–43; Gu- tion,” in Imagination und Wirklichkeit:
Materiality, ed. Anne E. Lester and drun Schleusener-Eichholz, “Naturwis- Zum Verhältnis von mentalen und realen
Katherine C. Little, Special Issue of Eng- senschaft und Allegorese: Der ‘Tractatus Bildern in der Kunst der frühen Neuzeit, ed.
lish Language Notes 53/2 (Fall/Winter de oculo morali’ des Petrus von Limo- Klaus Krüger and Alessandro Nova
2015): 119–136. ges,” Frühmittelalterliche Studien 12 (Mainz, 2000), 47–69. On such sculp-
59 For example Cennino Cennini, Il Libro (1978): 258–309; Richard Newhauser, tures as allegories of the Church, see Ilene
dell’Arte: The Craftsman’s Handbook, 124, “Nature’s Moral Eye: Peter of Limoges’ Forsyth, The Throne of Wisdom: Wood
ed. and trans. Daniel V. Thompson, 2 Tractatus Moralis de Oculo,” in Man and Sculptures of the Madonna in Romanesque
vols. (New Haven, 1932), 1: 74, describes Nature in the Middle Ages, ed. Susan J. France (Princeton, 1972).
how works “in relief” were to be executed Ridyard and Robert G. Benson (Sewanee, 5 Peter of Limoges, The Moral Treatise on
on pictures, saying “con la punta del detto TN, 1995), 125–36; Suzannah Biernoff, the Eye, 6.10, trans. Newhauser, 36
pennello, e andare prestamente arrilevare Sight and Embodiment in the Middle Ages 6 Peter of Limoges, Tractatus moralis de
quello che vuoi.” (Houndmills, UK; New York, 2002), 51– oculo, 6.10, trans. Newhauser, 36: “Idem
60 For a history of the term’s etymology in 53 and 123–26; Dallas G. Denery II, See- nobis in ymagine crucifixi monstratur que
the Renaissance, see Luba Freedman, ing and Being Seen in the Late Medieval tanquam liber laycorum in ecclesiis eleu-
“‘Rilievo’ as an Artistic Term in Renais- World: Optics, Theology and Religious Life atur.” For a recent summary of the me-
sance Art Theory,” Rinascimento S.S. 29 (Cambridge, UK, 2005), 75–116; and dieval reception of the papal dictum, see
(1989): 217–47. In her detailed essay, Richard Newhauser, “Peter of Limoges, Herbert L. Kessler, “Gregory the Great
Freedman does not attempt to locate the Optics, and the Science of the Senses,” in and Image Theory in Northern Europe
term’s medieval manifestations nor look Pleasure and Danger in Perception: The during the Twelfth and Thirteenth Cen-
for its conceptual framework in medieval Five Senses in the Middle Ages and the Ren- turies,” in A Companion to Medieval Art:
representational theory. aissance,” special issue of The Senses & So- Romanesque and Gothic in Northern Eu-
61 See the entry, “Nota modum incarnandi ciety 5.1 (2010): 28–44. rope, ed. Conrad Rudolph (Malden, MA;
facies et alia membra,” in the late four- 2 See, for instance, Jean Wirth, L’image à Oxford, 2006), 151–72. See Cooper,
teenth-century Libellus ad faciendum col- l’époque gothique, 1140–1280 (Paris, above, p. ###.
ores 2.30, in Il “Libellus ad faciendum 2008); idem, L’image à la fin du Moyen 7 Herbert L. Kessler, “Speculum,” Speculum
colores” dell’Archivio di Stato dell’Aquila: Âge (Paris, 2011); and Aden Kumler, 86.1 (2011): 1–41. See also Diana Nor-
Origine, contesto e restituzione del “De arte Translating Truth: Ambitious Images and man, “‘In the Beginning was the Word’:
illuminandi,” ed. Cristiana Pasqualetti Religious Knowledge in Late Medieval An Altarpiece by Ambrogio Lorenzetti
(Florence, 2011), 164–65; Peter Mar- France and England (New Haven; Lon- for the Augustinian Hermits of Massa
shall, “Two Scholastic Discussions of the don, 2011). Marittima,” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte
Perception of Depth by Shading,” Journal 3 Peter of Limoges, Tractatus moralis de 58 (1995): 478–503; Alessio Monciatti,
of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 44 oculo, 12.4, trans. Newhauser, 158: “Vidi Chiara Frugoni, and Maria Monica
(1981): 170–75. inquit nuper dominam quandam vultu Donato, Pietro e Ambrogio Lorenzetti
62 Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form, speciosissimam auro et gemmis ornatam, (Florence, 2002).
55. dixitque michi stupenti et eius ornatum et 8 Peter of Limoges, Tractatus moralis de
vultus pulcritudinem admiranti que nam oculo, 11.7, trans. Newhauser, 145: “Et
HERBERT L. KESSLER sum ergo. Et respondi videtur michi quod sicut dicit Hugo de Sancto Victore libro
Fenestra obliqua – Art and Peter of Limo- sis beata virgo. Et ipsa respicias me a tergo. De sacramentis: Triplex est in nobis ocu-
ges’s Modes of Seeing Cunque tergum eius respicerem, vidi eam lus scilicet oculus contemplationis et ocu-
1 Peter of Limoges, Tractatus moralis de putridam et vermibus scaturientem.” lus rationis et oculus carnis. Propter
oculo, published under the title Johannis 4 Robert Didier, “La Sedes, la Vièrge et le peccatum primi hominis oculus contem-
Pithsani archiepiscopi Canthuariensis ordi- saint Jean au Calvaire de l’église Saint plationis in nobis est extinctus, oculus ra-
nis fratrum minorum liber de oculo morali Jean à Liège et la sculpture mosane de la tionis factus est lippus; sed oculus carnis
foeliciter incipit (Augsburg, 1475 [?]); première moitié du XIIIe siècle,” in La remansit clarus. Cum igitur homo consid-
English translation by Richard collégiale Saint-Jean de Liège, ed. Joseph erat cecitatem et obscuritatem sue intelli-
Newhauser, The Moral Treatise on the Eye Deckers (Liège, 1981), 57–76; Jeffrey gentie et percipit quod nihil scire potest
(Toronto, 2012). See David L. Clark, Hamburger, “Seeing and Believing: The sine diuini luminis illustratione, quid ei
“Optics for Preachers: The De oculo Suspicion of Sight and the Authentication restat nisi orando dicere Deus deus meus
morali by Peter of Limoges,” The Michi- of Vision in Late Medieval Art and Devo- illumina tenebras meas.”

Notes to pages 000–000 187