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- Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci - 5/159 -
ON THE THREE BRANCHES OF PERSPECTIVE.
There are three branches of perspective; the first deals with the reasons of the (apparent) diminution of objects as they recede from the eye, and is known as Diminishing Perspective.--The second contains the way in which colours vary as they recede from the eye. The third and last is concerned with the explanation of how the objects [in a picture] ought to be less finished in proportion as they are remote (and the names are as follows):
Linear Perspective. The Perspective of Colour. The Perspective of Disappearance.
[Footnote: 13. From the character of the handwriting I infer that this passage was written before the year 1490.].
ON PAINTING AND PERSPECTIVE.
The divisions of Perspective are 3, as used in drawing; of these, the first includes the diminution in size of opaque objects; the second treats of the diminution and loss of outline in such opaque objects; the third, of the diminution and loss of colour at long distances.
[Footnote: The division is here the same as in the previous chapter No. 14, and this is worthy of note when we connect it with the fact that a space of about 20 years must have intervened between the writing of the two passages.]
THE DISCOURSE ON PAINTING.
Perspective, as bearing on drawing, is divided into three principal sections; of which the first treats of the diminution in the size of bodies at different distances. The second part is that which treats of the diminution in colour in these objects. The third [deals with] the diminished distinctness of the forms and outlines displayed by the objects at various distances.
ON THE SECTIONS OF [THE BOOK ON] PAINTING.
The first thing in painting is that the objects it represents should appear in relief, and that the grounds surrounding them at different distances shall appear within the vertical plane of the foreground of the picture by means of the 3 branches of Perspective, which are: the diminution in the distinctness of the forms of the objects, the diminution in their magnitude; and the diminution in their colour. And of these 3 classes of Perspective the first results from [the structure of] the eye, while the other two are caused by the atmosphere which intervenes between the eye and the objects seen by it. The second essential in painting is appropriate action and a due variety in the figures, so that the men may not all look like brothers, &c.
[Footnote: This and the two foregoing chapters must have been written in 1513 to 1516. They undoubtedly indicate the scheme which Leonardo wished to carry out in arranging his researches on Perspective as applied to Painting. This is important because it is an evidence against the supposition of H. LUDWIG and others, that Leonardo had collected his principles of Perspective in one book so early as before 1500; a Book which, according to the hypothesis, must have been lost at a very early period, or destroyed possibly, by the French (!) in 1500 (see H. LUDWIG. L. da Vinci: _Das Buch van der Malerei_. Vienna 1882 III, 7 and 8).]
The use of the book on Painting.
These rules are of use only in correcting the figures; since every man makes some mistakes in his first compositions and he who knows them not, cannot amend them. But you, knowing your errors, will correct your works and where you find mistakes amend them, and remember never to fall into them again. But if you try to apply these rules in composition you will never make an end, and will produce confusion in your works.
These rules will enable you to have a free and sound judgment; since good judgment is born of clear understanding, and a clear understanding comes of reasons derived from sound rules, and sound rules are the issue of sound experience--the common mother of all the sciences and arts. Hence, bearing in mind the precepts of my rules, you will be able, merely by your amended judgment, to criticise and recognise every thing that is out of proportion in a work, whether in the perspective or in the figures or any thing else.
Necessity of theoretical knowledge (19. 20).
OF THE MISTAKES MADE BY THOSE WHO PRACTISE WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE.
Those who are in love with practice without knowledge are like the sailor who gets into a ship without rudder or compass and who never can be certain whether he is going. Practice must always be founded on sound theory, and to this Perspective is the guide and the gateway; and without this nothing can be done well in the matter of drawing.
The painter who draws merely by practice and by eye, without any reason, is like a mirror which copies every thing placed in front of it without being conscious of their existence.
The function of the eye (21-23).
INTRODUCTION TO PERSPECTIVE:--THAT IS OF THE FUNCTION OF THE EYE.
Behold here O reader! a thing concerning which we cannot trust our forefathers, the ancients, who tried to define what the Soul and Life are--which are beyond proof, whereas those things, which can at any time be clearly known and proved by experience, remained for many ages unknown or falsely understood. The eye, whose function we so certainly know by experience, has, down to my own time, been defined by an infinite number of authors as one thing; but I find, by experience, that it is quite another. [Footnote 13: Compare the note to No. 70.]
[Footnote: In section 13 we already find it indicated that the study of Perspective and of Optics is to be based on that of the functions of the eye. Leonardo also refers to the science of the eye, in his astronomical researches, for instance in MS. F 25b '_Ordine del provare la terra essere una stella: Imprima difinisce l'occhio'_, &c. Compare also MS. E 15b and F 60b. The principles of astronomical perspective.]
Here [in the eye] forms, here colours, here the character of every part of the universe are concentrated to a point; and that point is so marvellous a thing ... Oh! marvellous, O stupendous Necessity--by thy laws thou dost compel every effect to be the direct result of its cause, by the shortest path. These [indeed] are miracles;...
In so small a space it can be reproduced and rearranged in its whole expanse. Describe in your anatomy what proportion there is between the diameters of all the images in the eye and the distance from them of the crystalline lens.
OF THE 10 ATTRIBUTES OF THE EYE, ALL CONCERNED IN PAINTING.
Painting is concerned with all the 10 attributes of sight; which are:--Darkness, Light, Solidity and Colour, Form and Position, Distance and Propinquity, Motion and Rest. This little work of mine will be a tissue [of the studies] of these attributes, reminding the painter of the rules and methods by which he should use his art to imitate all the works of Nature which adorn the world.
Variability of the eye.
1st. The pupil of the eye contracts, in proportion to the increase of light which is reflected in it. 2nd. The pupil of the eye expands in proportion to the diminution in the day light, or any other light, that is reflected in it. 3rd. [Footnote: 8. The subject of this third proposition we find fully discussed in MS. G. 44a.]. The eye perceives and recognises the objects of its vision with greater intensity in proportion as the pupil is more widely dilated; and this can be proved by the case of nocturnal animals, such as cats, and certain birds--as the owl and others--in which the pupil varies in a high degree from large to small, &c., when in the dark or in the light. 4th. The eye [out of doors] in an illuminated atmosphere sees darkness behind the windows of houses which [nevertheless] are light. 5th. All colours when placed in the shade appear of an equal degree of darkness, among themselves. 6th. But all colours when placed in a full light, never vary from their true and essential hue.
OF THE EYE.
Focus of sight.
If the eye is required to look at an object placed too near to it, it cannot judge of it well--as happens to a man who tries to see the tip of his nose. Hence, as a general rule, Nature teaches us that an object can never be seen perfectly unless the space between it and the eye is equal, at least, to the length of the face.
Differences of perception by one eye and by both eyes (26-29).
OF THE EYE.
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