Architekturen des Sehens. Bauten in Bildern des Quattrocento

Grave J (2015) eikones.
München: Wilhelm Fink.

Monographie | Veröffentlicht | Deutsch
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Abstract / Bemerkung
Als Fresken, aber auch als Tafelbilder setzen Gemälde des 15. Jahrhunderts eine Wand und damit Architektur voraus. Wie ändert sich dieses Verhältnis, wenn das Bild selbst Gebäude oder Räume darstellt und durch eine perspektivische Erschließung der Bildtiefe seine Bindung an die Fläche zu überwinden scheint? Die Darstellung von Architektur wurde lange als Hilfsmittel zur Anwendung der Linearperspektive verstanden. Diese Studie macht nun auf überraschend komplexe Konstellationen zwischen Bildern und den in ihnen gezeigten Bauten aufmerksam. Keineswegs diente die Darstellung von Architektur vorrangig dazu, den Realitätseffekt der Perspektive zu nutzen und das Bild als »offenstehendes Fenster« erscheinen zu lassen. Vielmehr konfrontieren gerade die Bauten in Bildern des Quattrocento oftmals mit Ambiguitäten und Irritationen. Das Buch führt vor Augen, welche Einsichten über die Bildauffassung der Frührenaissance sich aus den Darstellungen von Architektur gewinnen lassen.

In Italian art of the fifteenth century, novelties in painting and architecture appear to have mutually supported each other in a remarkable way. Even before Renaissance architecture dominated the building practice along a broad front, its pictorial representation served to instruct and disseminate the new ‘classical’ art of construction. At the same time, the reference to the canonized architectonic idiom of form from antiquity also promoted the establishment of linear perspective in painting. The efficiency and efficacy of perspectival representation could be demonstrated especially impressively by the example of clearly subdivided constructions. Without rational architectonic structures, the persuasive conquest in the Quattrocento of visual spaces would have scarcely been conceivable. Renaissance perspective hence found its congenial object in Renaissance architecture. The eminent importance attached to architectural representation and its innovations during the early Renaissance could not be without its consequences in the way images were understood. Because, in principle, every picture is situated within real architectonic surroundings and must respond to this context, special—if not singular—status must be attached to the pictorial representation of architecture. In Italian painting of the Quattrocento, this special status of architectural representation had to be fundamentally renegotiated because a building and its structural elements simultaneously acted as the guiding pictorial motifs contributing toward establishing the way linear perspective represented, and hence had a share in, the development of a new conception of pictures. Consequently, it was a matter of determining the relation between the pictorially represented architecture and the image’s real architectonic surroundings. These ‘aesthetic’ implications of architectural representation in the early Renaissance are at the focus of the study “Architectures of Vision. Buildings in Quattrocento Painting.” The point of interest is less the history of motifs or the share that pictures had in the history of architecture, therefore their influence on the theory and practice of architecture of the fifteenth century. The question to be raised is rather: What understanding of images could be formed and articulated in a pertinent depiction of architecture? What conception of the conditions, possibilities, and limits of visual representation is articulated in the “architectures of vision” which were to become so characteristic of Quattrocento painting? The analysis broaches the lead issue of the conception of images during the early Renaissance in a series of specifically chosen typologically intercoordinated case studies that examine more closely the usage of architectural representation and its relation to each of the concrete architectonic surroundings. Analyses of frescoes and panel paintings, works in sacred as well as profane contexts, individual pictures as well as groups, show that architectural representation by no means exclusively served to make visual representation unambiguous and ‘transparent’. The analyses of these works concentrate wholly in this sense on aspects that have been marginalized in the theory of Renaissance art and—as a consequence—also in art historical research. The analyses reveal that representation of architecture mostly has the dual function of not only creating an illusionistic spatial depth, as a ‘stage’ of pictorial representation, but also, at the same time, structuring the image plane in such a way that the illusion of space is partially retracted again. In many cases it is deployed to raise irritating doubts about the boundaries between architectural representation in a picture, the architectonically designed framings of the image, and the architectonic instrumentation of real space. Subtle infractions of the rules and leaps in architectonic logic also add special potential to the pictorial representation. Not least of all, pictures of the Quattrocento use architectonic elements to effectuate a mise en abyme in the image, by embedding an element, e.g., an architectonic framework, within the pictorial representation that reflects the basic structure of the entire image. Representations of architecture in pictures of the Quattrocento thus prove to be productive, variously deployable visual operators. In many cases their primary service is not elucidation but exploration of the character of reality of what is being displayed in the picture. Thus the representation of architecture often stimulates protracted observation and reflection. Only by this means does painting do justice to the special challenge inherent in the subject matter which in the fifteenth century is mostly religious: Biblical events or saints can be presented without committing them to a presence in the here and now. Close readings of three central texts of the Quattrocento precede the case studies, in order to be able to profile the variety of ways in which architectural representation is used in painting, as an independent contribution toward contemporary discourses on images from the Quattrocento. The report that Antonio di Tuccio Manetti gave of Filippo Brunelleschi’s first demonstrations of perspective; Leon Battista Alberti’s comparison between a picture and a window; and the consideration of images portrayed by Nicolaus Cusanus at the beginning of his text De visione Dei ought to reveal essential potentials as well as problems with representing architecture. Case studies on selected pictures of the Quattrocento build upon the considerations that were developed in the wake of Brunelleschi, Alberti, and Cusanus. Exemplary works are examined in nine chapters for how they define the relation between the pictorially represented architecture and the real building contexts of the images. The selection of analyzed images encompass well-known ‘icons’ of painting of the early Renaissance, such as Masaccio’s Trinity, the sketch books of Jacopo Bellini, Giovanni Bellini’s Pala di Pesaro, Cosmè Tura’s Roverella altar, and the Berlin ‘ideal city’ panel. In addition, there are paintings by Domenico Veneziano and Piero della Francesca, as well as frescoes by Andrea Mantegna, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Filippino Lippi. Less well-known works are also taken into account, such as by Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano and Bartolomeo Montagna, which in light of the examined question prove to be surprisingly innovative and complex. These case studies are designed to be readable also as independent contributions to the analysis and interpretation of relevant artwork. In all these cases, an analysis of the pictorial architectures open up a new avenue toward interpreting the images involved. The study’s readings and exemplary case studies offer fundamental critique of the comparison, still topical today, made between a Renaissance picture and a view from a window. In 1435 Alberti parenthetically compared the perspectivally designed picture with a finestra aperta—an analogy that implicitly suggests a clear differentiation between image and surroundings, namely between the image space and real space. Although Alberti assigns to architecture the function of offering to pictorial representation a clear and unambiguous structure, analyses of the exemplary pictures draw attention to other, partly contrary effects. The purposeful use of complex architectural depictions frequently allows contradictions to be experienced and stimulates irresolvable processes of perception. Differentiations between various levels of reality are repeatedly subjected to revision throughout the observation, so none of these differentiations can become permanently and bindingly fixed. Hence, as the object of visual representation, not only does architecture open up and structure illusionary spaces, but it also simultaneously draws these window views into question by letting the flatness of the image become conspicuous or by challenging the picture’s relation to its frame and surroundings. These ambivalent visual phenomena have the consequence that the viewer cannot set the representation in the picture unquestioningly into a presence in the here and now. The complex, persisting processes of perception in which the viewing becomes entangled in the ambiguities rather let him or her experience another time, the temporality of actually viewing the picture. A closing outlook on the study therefore takes these observations about the representation of architecture during the Quattrocento as an opportunity to present what profit might be gained by a systematic analysis of the temporality of an image’s reception aesthetics. The closing chapter sketches, on one hand, the outlines of this approach toward picture analysis, which specifically pursues the question of how pictures influence the temporal extension of the perceptual process and arouse the recipient’s awareness that the picture is not fully accessible to him or her in a single instant. On the other hand, the closing chapter pleads that a precise analysis of the temporality of viewing pictures will permit a differentiated response to questions regarding the much-discussed ‘power’ of images: The “architectures of vision” in the Quattrocento show that images can exert ‘power’ on us by entangling us in lengthier perceptual processes that are not entirely under our control.
Page URI


Grave J. Architekturen des Sehens. Bauten in Bildern des Quattrocento. eikones. München: Wilhelm Fink; 2015.
Grave, J. (2015). Architekturen des Sehens. Bauten in Bildern des Quattrocento (eikones). München: Wilhelm Fink.
Grave, J. (2015). Architekturen des Sehens. Bauten in Bildern des Quattrocento. eikones, München: Wilhelm Fink.
Grave, J., 2015. Architekturen des Sehens. Bauten in Bildern des Quattrocento, eikones, München: Wilhelm Fink.
J. Grave, Architekturen des Sehens. Bauten in Bildern des Quattrocento, eikones, München: Wilhelm Fink, 2015.
Grave, J.: Architekturen des Sehens. Bauten in Bildern des Quattrocento. eikones. Wilhelm Fink, München (2015).
Grave, Johannes. Architekturen des Sehens. Bauten in Bildern des Quattrocento. München: Wilhelm Fink, 2015. eikones.


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