(this is chapter 15 of John White's "Birth and Rebirth of Pictorial Space".
Quoted text is in YELLOW.
Text quoted from other authors is in GREEN)
Quoted text is in YELLOW.
Text quoted from other authors is in GREEN)
Fourteenth and Fifteenth century
Manuscript Illumination in France
The splendours of French painting in the fourteenth century are bounded by the turning of a page. A decorative balance so firmly founded on the written word could not be easily or rapidly adjusted to ideas of spatial realism. The stages of development that in thirteenthcentury Italy melted into one another with explosive force become in France a gentle disengagement from the arms of the initial and the tendrils of the decorative border.
Thirteenth-century Gothic illumination, with its patterned backgrounds, and flat, architectural or lettered frames, is both less three-dimensional in itself and less ready for translation into spatial terms than the Byzantine forms and antique reminiscences which played so great a role in Italy. The dominance of the flat frontal and complex frontal patterns is far more complete. The very rare exceptions are provided by the surfacestressing foreshortened frontal settings, and oblique constructions are almost non-existent.
The first movement in the new direction seems to take place at the end of the first quarter of the fourteenth century. This is the Parisian Jean Pucelle’s adoption of the foreshortened frontal setting for consistent use. The new construction is predominant in the Bylling Bible of 1327, and is accompanied by occasional use of the oblique setting for such things as stools.
In the more or less contemporary Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, it is equally important, sharing the honours, in this instance, with small open-sided structures that reveal their one-room, centralized interiors.’ Despite the survival of purely frontal, and, more rarely, of complex frontal structures, it is clear that the new ideas of space have gained their first firm footing on the manuscript page.
The impulse for this new departure is derived, as might be expected, from the initial impact upon French artistic consciousness of the new ideas that had held Italy in ferment for some fifty years.3 Apart from the general evidence of Italian leavening in France, Pucelle’s own work reveals at least one definite connection with the art of Duccio and the Sienese.
This clear link, confirming an impression often less amenable to proof, is his adoption for ‘The Annunciation’ in the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux of Duccio’s composition for ‘The Annunciation of the Death of the Virgin’ in the Maestà. The single substitution is the standing Virgin also used by Duccio for the first ‘Annunciation’. The resulting design was so successful that it was not only repeated by Pucelle and his atelier, but actually survived essentially unchanged into the fifteenth century.
There are other differences in the stage, and also in the posture of the annunciating angel, who is more forceful, and less reverent in Duccio's version.
The tie with Italy is underlined by the fact that such a boxed interior is otherwise extremely rare so early. Moreover, it alone amongst the textual illustrations is divorced from any patterned ground, and stands directly silhouetted on the parchment. This second feature stresses the Italian reminiscences amongst the small, freestanding buildings that are used in calendar scenes and for the marginal illustrations at the bottom of the page.
Another reflection of Italian influence is the use of a normal viewpoint. This is not very noticeable at first in Pucelle manuscripts, since small objects like chairs or tables so often stand in isolation. These are naturally seen from above without in any way detracting from the normality of the down-sloping roof-lines in the majority of the buildings.
Despite this budding naturalism, Jean Pucelle, or possibly an intermediary, has transformed Duccio’s true interior into a little open-sided house, and so reverted to the earlier pattern of the object set in space. There is, as yet, no feeling for an enclosed void divorced from all description of the outside of the box that shuts it in.
Yes.. I feel no sense of space within, as I do with Duccio and Giotto.
Rather than inviting the viewer into an imaginary space, the page asserts itself into the space of the viewer.
The tendency for naturalist innovators to begin by concentrating on the individual solid object that was noted in connection with the frescoes at Assisi and Padua, here recurs in far more drastic form. The visible ground plane was a well-established feature of late thirteenth-century Italian frescoes. In Pucelle’s early fourteenth-century miniatures, on the other hand, it sometimes extends no further than the limits of a one-roomed house, and it is usually represented by the narrowest of strips, or even by a mere line.6 Pictorial space is, therefore, in a real sense an attribute of the individual solid; both created by it and unable to extend beyond its borders. These solids are, moreover, held to the very minimum necessary for the setting of a scene or for the illustration of an action. The borrowing of Sienese patterns carries with it no awareness of the complex and continuous pictorial space so typical of Duccio himself, whilst the dominance of the surface is even further stressed by the everpresent text.
The isolation of the individual solid remains a characteristic of most of the miniatures painted by the Maître aux Boquetaux, who was active in the middle and third quarter of the century. Although the ground plane is by now established, and at times a quite extensive landscape is developed, there is, as yet, little effort to relate the viewpoints of the various structures occupying a single scene.
The great, pagewidth illustration of ‘Love Presenting Three of His Children’ on Folio D of the Poesies de Guillaume de Machaut, which together with the similar scene on Folio E is probably his greatest achievement, reveals his capabilities and his limitations. In the mass of smaller, less ambitious miniatures from his hand and workshop, he remains almost completely faithful to the simplified Sienese constructions taken over by Pucelle. The patterned background is also retained, stressing the decorative qualities of the centralized and foreshortened frontal structures which provide the major spatial accents. Throughout contemporary French illumination these constructions are completely dominant wherever the frontal and complex frontal systems do not still maintain their hold. Until the final quarter of the century the oblique construction remains, in comparison, unimportant, whether in quantity, in quality, or in function.
An insight into the creative processes that seem to be so typical of early experiments in spatial design, yet tend to stay for ever in the realm of mere assertion, is provided by The Coronation Book of Charles V.In this manuscript of 1355, scene follows scene, each with its gaily patterned background, each with figures standing on a narrow plane of equal gaiety beside an altar in foreshortened frontal setting.
Folio 63 , however, reveals the little group of personages in the act of climbing up some wooden steps into a draped, rectangular pulpit standing on four columns. The scene is then repeated on the following page, with the difference that king, prelates, and attendant nobles have all reached their ceremonial places. The steps that bore their weight so sturdily in the previous illustration are no more in use. Immediately, they are swung back into the picture plane, flattening upon the surface as if no one ever did, or ever could, climb up them.
Seldom is the creation of pictorial space so graphically tied to the demands of action. No subtleties of analysis are needed to reveal the seemingly most important motive in the making of the early forms of space; a space which clings, expanding and contracting, to the figures, and to the simple solids that are indispensable to them in the playing of their parts.
The fact that an unusual effort or achievement may occasionally arouse a new, if momentary, ambition, even in a craftsman miniaturist, can perhaps be seen in the succeeding illustration . Suddenly, caution is forgotten in the placing of the figures that are usually set so carefully to one side of the altar, or else overlap it slightly without spatial explanation. Now, not only do they stand partly in front of it, but space is cleared for them. The altar pivots back upon its outer corner, and becomes, for the first and final time, softly oblique in setting. The figures walk for a brief moment in the thin wedge of space which is left free before it is squeezed out again by the flat pressures of the page.
Here's a very similar scene.
But unlike White's example, the throne is not oblique and there is no space on the floor.
Which might suggest that those spatial features are as likely to be inadvertent variations as much as momentary ambitions.
The actual invasion of French manuscripts by the oblique construction sets in slowly during the early ‘seventies. An unusually bold example of the intermediate stage, which was seen in Italy in some of Cavallini’s frescoes and mosaics, can be recognized in the dedication page of The Polycratic of John of Salisbury, given to Charles V in 1372 . Here the extreme oblique construction of the lower sections of a throne appears in combination with a horizontal upper line that implies a foreshortened frontal setting. There seems to be an element almost of illusionism in the bold sign of this great throne. The angular base which juts across the border, and the canopy which stands completely in front of it, appear to show a sense of purpose that distinguishes them from the earlier overlappings in which figures, or else minor details such as spires and pinnacles, were usually involved.
There is, however, some uncertainty in the relationship between the upper and lower parts. It therefore seems impossible to tell whether the overlapping is dictated by a wish to have a more imposing throne than that allowed by the dimensions of the decorative field, or whether it reflects a truly spatial purpose. Such uncertainties seem to be the rule in the first stages of the introduction of the oblique setting into French illuminations. They reflect the great role played by the purely decorative considerations which, when coupled with the desire for greater realism, contribute to each innovation.
The penetration of the oblique setting into the established workshops is revealed by manuscripts such as the Bible of Charles V, illuminated in the circle of the Maître aux Boquetaux and completed in the year 1371.
Similarly, one of the earlier manuscripts in which the many fine examples of the new design outnumber the foreshortened frontal settings is the Missal of St. Denis, decorated by the Pucelle atelier, or by his followers.” The extreme oblique construction on Folio 261 is of particular interest, as it shows the strains and stresses to which longacccpted patterns were subjected by the intrusion of realistic space. The way in which the letter 0 is woven into the design, part before, and part behind the foremost pillar, creates visual excitement. The new existence in a world of space is underlined at the same time by the hounds that leap diagonally through the letter just as circus dogs leap through a hoop.
The motives of the painter are again uncertain. He may have been intrigued by the new possibilities of spatial interweave, or have actually exploited the plane-stressing qualities of the capital to control the thrusting force of his design. Perhaps, on the other hand, he merely did his best with what was, after all, a mandatory element in the composition. Of these three solutions, the latter seems, in the end, to prove the least promising. It is possibly significant that this particular little building, so securely set upon deeprunning greensward, is at once the most firmly constructed, and spatially the most aggressive structure in the missal. Moreover, in the two additional miniatures in which the initials cut into the composition in a similar way, a simple planar pattern is created, forming no such complex interweave. In all the other scenes the letters function as a mere surrounding border. This, combined with the least possible emphasis on any part of an initial which cannot be kept entirely clear of the representational field, is the most common solution of the problem for those artists who were pioneering fresh conceptions of pictorial space during the fourteenth century.
It's fun to imagine White pouring through 14th C. manuscripts in search of spatial innovations, and then his excitement upon discovering this "O" that is interwoven with the corner column of a building set in the oblique. Eureka!
But does this exemplify an artist making a brilliant technical innovation -- or just the fact that a deeper pictorial space is so easily available to artists that it can be created on a whim.
The special case of the historiated letter is important simply because it represents, in extreme form, the varying yet everpresent problem of adjustments characteristic of those periods of history in which a desire for greater spatial realism is first felt. The old, impartial intertwining of figures and initials raised no conflict, since the element of realism was hardly appreciable. It is only with the advent of the new realistic space that the old balance is upset, and new pictorial combinations must be generated even where the earlier forms are not entirely superseded.
It is the last quarter, and particularly the last decade of the fourteenth century, which sees both the rapid development of the interior and the extension of the influence of Italian ideas of pictorial space from the building and the individual object out into the landscape. It is now that the Northern manuscript illuminators start on their Italian travels, seeing for themselves the source of so much inspiration. Simultaneously, even in their native city, the stars of the Parisian masters begin to wane before the Franco-Flemish supernovae.
In this time of ferment an increasing number of manuscripts reveal the extreme oblique setting impartially intermingled with the foreshortened frontal and centralized constructions. In many of the most important examples, such as the Brussels ‘Très Belles Heures’,’ extreme oblique and foreshortened frontal settings are to be found in almost equal numbers. In other cases there is a closer dependence upon earlier prototypes, at times amounting to actual repetition, and in these the oblique construction is much less common.’ Nevertheless, a survey of the few surviving panel paintings,15 or of the manuscripts illuminated by the leading artists at the turn of the century, reveals the increasing, and now widespread use of the extreme oblique construction as a new, and striking feature of pictorial design.
The highwater mark of this trend occurs in the output of the de Limbourg brothers during the first two decades of the fifteenth century. The extreme oblique setting becomes the dominant motif throughout their autograph work, appearing far more frequently than either foreshortened frontal or centralized constructions.
--------- The anatomy of the human figure; loving observation of the details of plant and animal life; the continuity of deep’running landscape; delicate architectural portraits of identifiable localities; there is no apparent end to an enumeration of the achievements of these artists
There is even a fullpage interior which, with its truncated, barrel-vaulted ceiling, with the sharp cutting of the figures at each side, and with the abbreviated left wall balanced on the right by an indefinite extension of the room-space through the cutting of the banqueting table and the fireplace, is, in general structure, comparable to Donatello’s great ‘Dance of Salome’ .
The vividness of this comparison and contrast is enhanced by yet another detail. Where Donatello, the Italian, carries his hall into depth through the repeated, arching planes of monumental architecture, the de Limbourg uses the softer, more pictorial, and typically northern medium of a hanging tapestry that sweeps the eye into a landscape of indefinite extent, the placing of the figures so blurring the transition that one scarcely knows where free space ends and woven space begins.
In such a manuscript the predominance of the extreme oblique construction amongst all the major foreground structures is of interest in itself. More striking still, however, is the fact that the softest conceivable oblique settings are used in most of the detailed architectural portraits in the backgrounds.
I don't feel any volume of space in the De Limbourg at at all - and I feel just a little tipsy/dizzy looking at it, with that odd porch protruding from the rear wall behind the seated figure of the duke.
Why doesn't White mention the large serving vessel on the right? In contrast to the rest of the scene, it definitely recedes into space.
In the Calendar scene for June, the construction takes a form in which the main face of the building is almost, and yet quite definitely not, set in the plane. It is a subtle application of a method similar to that habitually used by Giotto in his mature works. In other miniatures it is the extreme oblique construction itself that is transformed. The evenness of recession upon either side remains. But now the slope of all the architectural horizontals is reduced until the sharp, and jutting, angular effect is lost, with each line scarcely moving from the horizontal, yet no line maintaining it.’ In the de Limbourg architecture it is patent that the very buildings which disclose the greatest evidence of direct observation are those which reveal the greatest subtlety of oblique construction.
White does not mention that the depiction of the distant buildings beyond the moat and the wall follows an entirely different set of rules from the depiction of the figures and objects in the foreground where size does not diminish with distance.
Are different kinds of perspective appropriate for different social classes, the nobility and the peasantry ?
He also does not note that the castle to the left has a different POV from the Cathedral to the right - a cathedral whose facade is resting squarely upon the shoulders of the hard working peasants.
During these same years the application of the setting to the problems posed by the interior is likewise extended and refined. The dedicatory miniature of a manuscript of ‘The Poems of Christine de Pisan’, dating from between 1408 and 1413, even reflects the transference to an indoor scene of those same visual principles and compositional devices which had been developed in Italy by Maso di Banco and Ambrogio Lorenzetti.’ Here, the beds to left and right are each obliquely set. Although the straight back wall reveals quite clearly that the room is actually rectangular, the artist recognizes that as head and eye are turned in order to survey each individual object, each in turn recedes obliquely from the onlooker—as in nature, so in art.
All of the receding orthogonals meet in the vicinity of the back window -- except for that big, goofy red bed on the right, and the green pole in the center of the ceiling.
Has a real room actually ever looked this way, even accounting for the turning head of the viewer?
Only in a mind that has been chemically altered -- which seems to have been the case with these courtly ladies.
Christine of Pizan is celebrated as the first European woman to be a professional writer and as a proto-feminist.
So it's quite appropriate that she gives the lades their own intense, very special world.
In an interior this arrangement intensifies the problem of the alignment of the side walls which had always faced the artists working on the basis of tradition and experience when they turned to the observation of individual appearances. In the north, particularly, there is a persistent tendency for the baselines either to be insufficiently inclined towards each other or to be inclined so much that they cut into the chequerboard pattern of the floor. It seems probable that one of the underlying reasons is that it is in observing just these lines that the artist turns his head furthest. As a result, the conflict between what he sees in each individual glance and the known structure of the room as a whole is at its most intense.
But the artist, or viewer, does not need to turn the head at all when looking at the walls of a room depicted in a book-size illustration.
And I really doubt that the these illustrations were based upon on-site drawings of actual rooms.
The more firmly he makes up his mind to set his walls according to his detailed observation of their surfaces, as in the miniature of ‘Isabel of Bavaria and Christine de Pisan’ , the greater are his troubles at the centre of the picture. This is often, like the side orthogonals, covered up in artistically effective embarrassment. It remained for Jean Fouquet to face the issue, and draw in upon the floor the curves which are implied in the area that separates the beds shown in this miniature, and to do consistently in practice many of the things which Leonardo later advocated in his theory of synthetic perspective.
The Roman journey which Fouquet undertook between 1445 and 1448 was undoubtedly amongst the most significant episodes in his whole life. The importance of it is increased by the lack of any agreement about his earlier activities. There are therefore, throughout his certain works, constant, and often very strong reflections of early renaissance art. It seems clear, more’ over, that he became acquainted with the new system of artificial perspective, although there are never more than fairly close approximations to it in his own productions.
Even these are rare, and for the most part confined to the pages of ‘The Book of Hours of Etienne Chevalier’, which appears to have been his first commission after his return to France.These approximations to the contemporary Italian theory are, however, less exciting than Fouquet’s development of the empirical endeavours of his French, and therefore, indirectly, of his Italian predecessors.
A noticeable feature of these Hours is the clear way in which the artist underlines the foremost plane of the illumination. This is seen as coinciding with the surface of a page pierced by pictorial space. The conception, therefore, of the pictured world as things seen through a window, which is common both to Eyckian practice and Italian theory, appears also to be present here.
In half the miniatures the effect is simply gained by placing at the bottom of the scene an unforeshortened strip of lettering which lies implicitly at right angles to the ground or floor immediately above it .
The change of plane is made explicit in ‘The Visitation’, where the vertical forward surfaces of the foremost row of marble pavement slabs are clearly shown.
In the remaining scenes all possible ambiguity is avoided by presenting the main action on a platform rising up behind a narrow forward space reserved for allegorical figures or for genrelike illustrations of the humble preparations for the next act in the drama. In over half of this second group of miniatures, however, it is not a straight line that divides these two spheres reality, but a curving wall or rockledge. These scenes are also those in which it is immpossible to find major reflections of renaissance architectural or perspective forms. In most of them the curved wall of the foreground, signifying final entry into the pictorial world, is accompanied also by a semi-circular grouping of figure composition or by circulation ..
Norris Kelly Smith discusses Fouquet here
Smith asserts that Fouquet's perspective was "radically informal", but I'm not sure whether he intended the curving floor to be part of that informality.
It seems to me to be an effective way to make a book-size image seem larger.
The artist of a wall size painting does not need to gently curve long, horizontal parallel lines since the the viewer's perspective will do that by itself.
Beginning of the footnote digression into Netherlandish art
The main reason for not considering the Flemish development fully in this study is that, as is so clearly shown by Panofsky (Early Netherlandish Painting) who has now so largely covered the field, it does not in any sense represent a ‘fresh start’ as regards spatial realism, its roots lying in the French and FrancoFlemish art of the fourteenth century. It represents a stage comparable in maturity to that of early fifieenthcenrury painting in Italy. There the ascendancy established by the new artificial perspective in its abbreviated Albertian form seems to account for the rapid and almost complete disappearance of the oblique setting. The emphasis on the squared pavement as the starting point in effect reduces all oblique forms to the status of interlopers cutting across the essential rectilinear network. In the north the monumental polyptych emerges as the dominant form. This, when combined with realistic architectural and landscape settings, puts an even greater premium on organizational factors than is the case with the typical Italian mode of expression, the fresco cycle, since the relationship between the parts is so instantaneously and insistently apparent.
White did not create a separate chapter for his discussion of early Netherlandish painting, preferring to make it a very long footnote in his discussion of France.
But the more he talks about it, the more it does indeed seem to be something of a "fresh start" with its own kind of spatial realism.
His final sentence, above, completely baffles me.
When has a good painting ever not been the result of putting a very high premium on "organizational factors" ?
Another important factor may well be the contemporary development and exploitation of the true interior as the most popular element in the new art. It is in the interior that the distortions accompanying any synthetic system are most acute and the pressure to use an ‘artificial’ method at its strongest. This is particularly so when, as is habitually the case with Jan van Eyck, the rectilinear frame itself is being incorporated in the design as an actual window, often of imitation marble.
The complexity of design that is being achieved by the end of the first quarter of the fifteenth century provides a further impulse towards the use of approximations to the system that is organizationally most suited to the plane surface. All these factors would, of course, be reinforced by knowledge of the Albertian system when the latter reached the north. Only when the artificial perspective vein has been worked out, and reaction sets in, is it possible, either in north or south, to return to an extensive use of the oblique disposition for solids and to the diagonal setting of interiors.
Are there earlier examples of this "artificial perspective vein" where the oblique disposition cannot be found?
I wish White would have mentioned them.
Artificial perspective is clearly absent in the above.
The above would qualify as an example -- but it was apparently painted 18 years after the example which White mentions below.
The validity of these tentative conclusions is supported by the fact that it is only in France, where manuscript illumination remains of prime importance until well past the mid century, as is not the case in Italy or in the Netherlands, and only in the manuscripts themselves that, as will be seen, a close approach to a full synthetic system is achieved during the fifteenth century. Only on the small scale of the illuminated page is such daring possible, and only in such a format are the disadvantages of the method at a minimum.
Despite the rapid triumph of approximations to artificial perspective in Netherlandish painting, the changeover is not instantaneous, and the traces of the earlier ways of seeing and composing remain visible just as they do in early fifteenth-century Italian art.
In the work of the Master of Flémalle, the oblique setting is used exclusively in ‘The Betrothal’ and in ‘The Nativity’ at Dijon.
Similarly, the extreme oblique setting is used in the Friedsam ‘Annunciation’ which is often attributed to Hubert van Eyck.
The above is now attributed to Petrus Christus, and it has always been one of my favorite paintings at the Met. Someday, I'd like to visit it again, hand my wallet, coat, and shoes to the security guard, wave goodbye, and then step right into the painting, press my warm cheek against the cool, gray stone of the doorway, and live there forever.
It has a sense of volume, without as well as within the depicted objects, that I find endlessly attractive, and is only partially accounted for by the relation of lines to vanishing points.
In the work of Jan van Eyck, a consistent softened oblique setting is used for ‘The Requiem’ in the Turin Hours, if this be by him. The viewpoint is on the right, and whilst the upper parts of the right transept are almost horizontal, those of the left transept slope downwards firmly, and the bier shares in the oblique disposition of the whole.
Distance appears to have bent those upper transepts,to the left and right. They are nearly parallel to the picture plane, but they do not fall into a straight line.
Which, I think, makes the small miniature feel more spacious.
A similar downslope is present in the transept in the panel of ‘The Virgin in a Church’.
Norris Kelly Smith discussed this painting here
I can see that "similar downslope in the transept to the left" -- but it is so slight, I can't imagine it making much difference, one way or the other. It is nearly parallel with the horizontals in the screen to its right.
In many of his panels with their illusionistic window frames, sometimes, as in the Van der Paele altarpiece with the perspective of the floor continuing the carved recession of the lower ledge, a soft oblique setting is reserved for the architectural details, particularly the capitals of columns. This is noticeable in the Dresden ‘Virgin Enthroned’, ‘The Annunciation’ and in the ‘Rolin Madonna’.
Finally, as a subtle hint of the synthetic approximation nascent in ‘The Requiem’, there are delicate curvatures in the flooring of the Arnolfini ‘Double Portrait’, with its superb convex mirror.
It seems likely that the use of convex mirrors, both in everyday life and as an aid to painting, influenced the appearance of optical curvatures in ftfteenthcentury Northern art. The peculiar ability of such mirrors to reflect wide vistas on a minute scale must have made them particularly useful to the miniaturist. The precise extent of their use by painters in this period is, however, conjectural, and cannot be taken to explain the entire range of such phenomena. The interesting question which arises, assuming the connection with painted curvatures, is why these latter were not ‘corrected’ and straightened out on the flat page or panel, and it seems probable that the answer lies precisely in the reasons suggested in the succeeding pages below.
For the life of me, I cannot see any curve to the floor boards in the above painting.
But there is a gentle curve in the line where the back wall meets the ceiling. It's higher in the center and is lower at both edges.
End of the footnote digression into Netherlandish art
The most convincing evidence that these deviations from renaissance practice have significance beyond that of an inherited pattern preference is provided by the scene of ‘The Annunciation of the Death of the Virgin’. Here, over the plain, lettered base-strip, part of a large, rectangular, half Italianate, half northern bedroom opens out. The back wall is set parallel to the surface of the page. The right-hand side wall, which alone is visible, is definitely straight. Despite this evidence of the normality and rectilinearity of the room, it is found that as the eye swings over to the right, away from the perspective centre, all the transverse lines of the matting on the floor begin to curve away into depth as they approach the side wall. The horizontal cross-beams of the forward part of the ceiling also start to splay, and swing into recession on the right. Fouquet has painted in the curves that were implicit in the dedication scene of ‘The Poems of Christine de Pisan’ . As the head turns, and the visual centre changes, so the room sways in adjustment, making new foreshortenings apparent.
I see the curvature in the floor and ceiling, but is this based upon a theory of optics or upon a desire to give a sense of spaciousness to a very small image?
And what "new foreshortenings" are apparent here ?
It is remarkable that strikingly original developments of such a kind should occur in that same manuscript in which the influence of Italian forms is at its peak. It is, therefore, no surprise at all that as the memories of his journey fade a little the development of Fouquet’s personal vision is intensified. The nature of this vision is abundantly confirmed in the extensive illustrations to ‘Les Grandes Chroniques de France’, which date, in all probability, from the early ‘sixties.
In the ‘Arrival of the Emperor at St. Denis’ the form of the spatial structure is set by the curved network of the flagstones, which in this case appears to record objective fact, since the imperial sedan, together with its horses, cuts across it in a definite straight line. This does not account, however, for the slight bending of the lines leading into depth. Such curving of a chequer-board pattern is one of the recurring features of the work of Fouquet, and in the majority of cases it is used where there can certainly be no question of objective curves.
In the miniature of ‘The Banquet of the Emperor Charles IV’, not only are there gentle curvatures in the chequered pattern of the floor, but the banqueting table, and also the steps leading up to it, which likewise stretch across the whole width of the scene, are delicately curved, their ends receding softly as the eye runs out to either side.
Similarly, in ‘The Coronation of Charlemagne’, represented as taking place in the nave of old St. Peter’s, the familiar curving network of the flagtones is seen again. There are altogether about ten cases of this... in each the interior is undoubtedly rectangular, although in two cases the impression of a bending side wall is obtained by rather muddled means. In each case there is also a more or less close approximation to the curving world of synthetic perspective
White considers the bending in the flagstones of the floor to be a rational display of what he calls "synthetic perspective"
But there is no corresponding rationality behind the bending of the vertical walls, since that would only occur if the POV were half-way up to the ceiling.
So he dismisses it as "muddled".
But it does make the space feel larger, more imposing.
Which might also explain the curvature of the flagstones.
White is a bit ambivalent about it all.
On the one hand, "A curving world, resembling that which Leonardo was, for very different reasons, to organize in theory, still comes into being"
But on the other, "Occasionally, however, they remain as bold, contrasted patterns underlying the empirical and non-dogmatic nature of Fouquet's art "
The vertical foreshortenings, later recognized in Leonardo’s theory of synthetic perspective, which make the sides of a tall building run together when one stands in front of it, are quite well known. It is not so often noticed, on the other hand, that if one stands before a gap between two such structures, it is the two buildings that converge, leaning across the intervening space. This phenomenon was observed and substantially reproduced by Fouquet in the architectural mass which dominates ‘The Building of the Temple at Jerusalem’. Even allowing for the structural inclination of the walls and buttresses, the whole temple leans firmly over to the left. There is also a general tendency for the vertical displacement to increase as the eye moves away from the visual centre of the miniature in the figure of King Solomon. The lessening of distortion at the centre is not wholly due to the need for harmonization with the vertical of the building containing the king’s balcony, for the outline of the farthest buttress still leans to the left, whereas in true elevation it would be inclined towards the right.
There can once again be no suggestion that a theoretical system has been applied, since the objective, ruled lines of the main horizontals show a lack of interest in such things that is emphasized by the use of an optically correct curve in the feet of the buttresses. It does appear, however, that the penetrating observation which, as in the rest of Fouquet’s work, characterizes the genre scenes and the architectural detail, is reflected also in the general structure.
To which "main horizontals" does White refer? And how might any of the horizontals show a greater interest in some kind of synthetic perspective? None of them extend more than about a third of the length of the picture.
And I can't even identify an "optically correct curve in the feet of the buttresses"
Though the buttresses near Solomon do seem to be bending in response to his gesture.
The underlying truth of this interpretation can, by chance, be proved in this particular case, as the whole scene is repeated in ‘The Taking of Jerusalem by NebuzarAdan’. Here the same buildings are seen from a distance, and the temple is indeed a structure in which the verticals appear as such within quite narrow limits, while the buttresses have their normal inward inclination. This is so in yet a third view of the building found in the same manuscript.
Here, the outer edges of the temple seem to be bending in at the center, which would be reasonable for a POV that is half its height.
It is significant that these particular distortions of the vertical only appear with such strength on the one occasion on which Fouquet represents an extremely tall building seen from a near viewpoint. Optical distortions are subtle in actual vision, and, as Leonardo later realized, it is just for the wide angles entailed in such cases that they are most noticeable.
Here are some more of Fouquet's architectural views.
I've yet to find any others that share the inward bowing or dramatic leaning of the Jerusalem temple - but we might allow that the reputation of this holy structure stands apart and above anything else ever built by man.
The pattern of development that now emerges is essentially clear. It is also an astonishing reflection of the one revealed within the framework of Italian art.
The earliest stage, both in France and Italy, is marked by concentration on the individual object. In both countries the latter first attain solidity through the foreshortened frontal setting with its powerful surface-stressing qualities. In France the new construction, pioneered by Jean Pucelle, retains its dominance for fifty years, until, in the last quarter of the fourteenth century, the extreme oblique construction challenges its undisputed rule. By the end the century the two constructions reach a state of parity similar to that in Cavallini’s later works, or in the frescoes of ‘The Legend of St. Francis’ at Assisi. The development of the foreshortened frontal setting is still continued over a wide field of French and Franco-Flemish illumination, just as it was continued at the hands of Duccio a century before. The oblique setting nevertheless attains, in the art of the three de Limbourg brothers, a dominance as striking in its way as that which it had previously enjoyed with Giotto and his closest followers, and this later triumph is accompanied by a similarly rapid toning down of its aggressive qualities.
White does not speculate on how these different kinds of space might relate to different kinds of narrative intentions.
In France, even more than in Italy, the patterns which had been established by the men who looked most keenly at the natural world were casually, if decoratively, intermingled and misunderstood by their less perceptive fo1lowers.
White does suggest, in the above, that the developments are made by those who
"look most keenly at the natural world" - though he stops short of asserting that naturalism was the primary motivation, as he notes that, for whatever reason, earlier forms are frequently revived.
For example, here's a piece that came to Chicago last year.
The artist was Jean Bourdichon (1457-1521), born 40 years after Jean Fouquet, and in the above we note the use of frontal and oblique constructions, as well as a kind of grid (but no curving floor)
White would like to see an evolution of pictorial space in France, and see it as parallel to that in Italy: frontal to oblique to artificial perspective to synthetic perspective.
But with the intermingling of cultures, "no complete confidence can be felt"
-- so he will then turn to ancient Greece to discover what happened there.
Though, I continue to doubt whether it makes any sense to restrict the contemplation of pictorial space to rectangular solids.
Here, for example, in another episode of Antiquités judaïques, the volumes of the draped figures are so important to the sense of space that envelops them.
And note that the flagstones in the pavement run straight across, with no perceptible curve.
"Synthetic perspective" seems to be much more important to White than it was to Fouquet, or to the artists who followed him and neglected to use it.