Quasi-linear Perspective as Global Perspicere: Accessing the Real in Early Modern China and Europe

Marco Musillo

Equatorial sundial, Forbidden City, Beijing.

My research explores early modern global ideas of perspective according to Italian and Chinese  artistic practices coming from painting, architecture, scenography, printing, with the aim to explore not only the translation and employment of techniques but also the interactions between aesthetic discourses and poetics related to specific case-studies. I am particularly interested in looking at three interconnected ambits: perspective as theoretical discourse, perspective as painting practice, perspective as bodily experience and as agent of the spectator's space. With regards to the first ambit, I look at theories of perspective considering the fracture between theoretical modeling and practices, both in China and in Europe; and by considering perspective in painting, scenic design, and architecture. The main aim is to explain the trajectories of perspective that, grounded in mathematics and optics, also comprised philosophical and artistic views about the description and representation of the physical world.  With regards to the second framework, I directly look into working procedures in relation to commissions and themes. The focus will be on workshop procedures and on the making of painting commissions in architectural settings  – churches and palatial architecture – in Italy and China. Here the main issues are related to the rendering of three-dimensional images into different medium, but also to the attention payed to surfaces within architectural spaces, or in contexts where vision and kinetic experience could not be separated. The third ambit is devoted to the spectator or viewer's experience, thus to the relation between subject and object, which worked in two directions. In one the spectator's experience and reaction was programmed from the very beginning of the artistic enterprise; for example in commissions precisely calibrated to elicit a specific response, being this the view of a trompe l'oeil in a European church, a peek to a Chinese or Italian anamorphosis through a lens, or the glance at a painted paper door in the Forbidden City. In the other, the broad perceptual encounter with pictures and spaces changed artistic practices and the way spectatorship was narrated.


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