Thursday, October 20, 2011

Did the Italian Renaissance Begin in Baghdad?

The Italian Renaissance remains one of those amazing hinges of human history where civilization made a great leap that continues to be felt today. For German art historian Hans Belting, this “quantum leap consistent in the way perspective introduced the gaze into the picture and thus, at the same time, the human subject doing the gazing.” Works such as Piero della Francesca’s Flagellation of Christ (shown above), a masterful maze of mathematical perspective put into paint, pull the viewer in and create another world of twists and turns full of figures more human than art had offered ever before. Before this type of gazing, however, Belting argues that the artists of the Renaissance turned their gaze East—to the mathematical theories of perspective originating from Arab culture, specifically those of Alhazen, a Muslim polymath working at the turn of the first millennium to understand and improve upon the ancient mathematicians’ ideas. In Florence and Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science, Belting makes a compelling case that the vision of the Renaissance—a vision that still holds us today—began not in Florence, but in Baghdad, with important implications for both cultures. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Did the Italian Renaissance Begin in Baghdad?"

[Image: Piero della Francesca. Flagellation of Christ, 1455-1460.]

[Many thanks to Harvard University Press for providing me with a review copy of Hans Belting’s Florence and Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science, translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider.]

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