Sunday, February 12, 2012
On re-creating the Renaissance education
So, I took today to work on my book and I've been reading a little of Leon Battista Alberti's "brief" treatise On Painting, and it immediately became apparent that in order to even follow this great man's thinking on the subject of painting, I am going to have to revisit mathematics, particularly geometry.
A few months ago, a reader kindly fulfilled one of my Amazon Wishlist wishes, and sent me all three volumes of Euclid's Elements. Many years ago, I took a remedial mathematics course and did quite well. I later discovered the reason for this. It was obvious from the layout of the course that its author had been a big fan of Euclid. All the proposals were laid out in my course in a logical and wondrously clear pattern from simplest concepts to greater and greater complexity.
By the end of this short course, I had discovered that not only was I not completely hopeless about maths, but there was in this Geometry business some elusive key to the secrets of the universe. Like a kind of map to God. It certainly became clear why the Pythagoreans worshipped mathematics like a god. This revelation is one of the key things I hope to lay out in my own book on re-creating the thought processes of the study of classical drawing and painting.
Book One of Alberti's treatise consists of over 6000 words on the mathematics behind perspective and composition. The work was, of course, intended for the sons of educated 15th century gentlemen who would have received Euclid as the beginning and end of their studies in mathematics and for whom Alberti's ideas were merely the application of these abstract concepts to a concrete form. But to us half-illiterate moderns, the damn thing is nearly incomprehensible. (And the edition I have found online has no pictures. This subject really does need illustrations!)
I think I'd better fetch my copy of Euclid from the office where it has very eruditely decorated my desk for some time.
What? People do Euclid as a hobby all the time, don't they? It's not weird.