Week Eight: Art, Architecture, and Forms of Cognition
Still from Roberto Rossellini’s The Age of Cosimo de Medici (1973)
In the fifteenth century, two sides of the artistic world were coming together: craft-related artistry and scholastic mathematics. The joining of these two remains of crucial importance to understanding writers on art from the period.
Leon Battista Alberti, in his work On Painting (Della Pittura) from 1435 tells us that he wishes to borrow from the mathematician yet to be considered a painter: “I will take first from the mathematicians those things with which my subject is concerned.” He opposes sensate wisdom to pure mathematics when he states that “mathematicians measure with their minds alone the forms of things separated from all matter.” What matters for Alberti appears to be the appropriate application of material to the task at hand.
Additionally, a division between “real” and apparent properties becomes significant to the theoretician. The painter should only be involved with apparent properties we are told: “the painter is concerned solely with representing what can be seen.” This position has its own logic however and is not arbitrary. It allows us in particular to have something like a science of appearances.
Looking further into his writing please take a stance on his separation between form and matter. What are the consequences of this division? Can art become a form of knowledge?