Author(s) Pélerin, Jean, called Viator
Title De artificiali perspectiva...
Imprint Toul, P. Jacques, 1505
Localisation Paris, Ensba, Masson 1076
Subject Perspective


     The first edition of the De artificiali perspectiva was printed in Toul in 1505. Copies of it are rather rare. The volume is a folio of 46 unnumbered leaves. The Latin text is printed on both sides of the page on three leaves, the illustrations on the front sides of 37 leaves, and the French text is printed on both sides of three pages.
The Latin text is illustrated: on the front side of the first leaf the "linea piramidalis" or "orizontalis" is outlined, on which are placed the principal point for one-point perspective and the two points for two-point perspective. On the other side of the same folio appears the line called the horizon line, on which the fixed points of the compass opening are marked ("cum circino apte aperto"). A third engraving, on the front of the text’s second folio, illustrates the "figures", simple surfaces and volumes. These are the only images inserted in the the text, in close connection with it. They do not reappear in the French text. The "figures exemplaires" are placed between this text in the common language and the Latin text, on independent plates; they have no direct connection with the text, making up a collection of models. It is interesting to point out that in the cases where the architecture is predominant, the plan appears, with a minimum of indications to accomplish the foreshortening. The drawings, all outlines, are traditionally attributed to Jean Pélerin himself.
The De artificiali perspectiva is the first printed treatise on perspective: the De pictura by Leon Battista Alberti, the De perspectiva pingendi by Piero della Francesca and Leonardo da Vinci’s treatise were still in manuscript form in 1505. Viator was transmitting a method based on two "points principaux", which, according to studies made by Erwin Panofsky, then by Liliane Brion-Guerry, was considered to be the product of a specifically French culture, in opposition or quasi-opposition to the method of the intersection of visual rays on a line perpendicular to the horizon line, described by Alberti. The idea advanced by Panofsky that Alberti’s method corresponded to the "construzione legittima" imagined by Brunelleschi contributed to reinforce that "national" polarization, opposing Viator’s method to the "modo ottimo" taught by Alberti in his De pictura.
The most recent studies have shown that the term and the concept of « costruzione legittima » were anachronisms, insofar as they were first worked out by Heinrich Ludwig in 1882. In addition we know that the method with two "points principaux"» was known in Italy around 1445. The method is clearly visible in the sinopia of the Nativité painted by Paolo Ucello at the Chiostro dello Spedale at San Marino alla Scala, in Florence.
Among the "figures exemplaires"» in the 1505 edition of the De artificiali perspectiva, Pélerin, in order to demonstrate the application of the "perspective diffuse" or "perspectiva cornuta", that is to say, composition with two "points principaux", chose a representation of the Cour de Justice taken from the Lit de Justice de Vendôme en 1458, a miniature of the manuscript known as the Munich Boccaccio (BSB, Cod. gall. 6 [12]) inspired by Fouquet. One can thus deduce that Viator did not invent the method, but was satisfied to transmit it. The critical question remaining in the present state of knowledge is that of the contacts and exchanges between the two geographic and cultural poles. Fouquet could very well have been one of the arbitrators between the two worlds, but no doubt he was not the only one.
In fact, the De artificiali perspectiva cannot be reduced to the method of two "points principaux" alone. Several themes and forms of perspective are to be found there. One can observe it for example in the third "figure exemplaire", which shows a landscape: the plan for the perspective used here is very close to that used by Leonardo in a study for the Adoration des Mages (c. 1481) (Florence, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi). In both cases, linear perspective is applied to an open space, with very little architecture or without it. Transversal lines parallel to the horizon line are more numerous than those that would be obtained from intersections between the diagonal (represented in the two images) and the lines joining the line of sight to the divisions of the horizon line. (Viator represents the divisions, but not the lines). The resemblance between the two perspective schemes can not easily be attributed to chance.
The confrontation between these two examples leads one to think that Viator’s treatise can no longer be considered "l’héritier d’une tradition locale" (Brion-Guerry 1962, p. 112), but rather the "compendium" or "abrégé", terms used in the first page of the text, of knowledge spread during the Quattrocento in a cultural network allowing information to circulate between Italy and France. It will be necessary to reconstitute the connections, probably starting from Fouquet or Leonardo; Liliane Brion-Guerry has already made note of the links with Viator’s treatise.

Pietro Roccasecca (Accademia di Belle Arti, Rome) – 2006

Critical bibliography

J. Pélerin, De Artificiali Perspectiva (1505, 1509), New York, Da Capo Press, 1973.

L. Brion-Guerry, Jean Pélerin Viator. Sa place dans l’histoire de la perspective, Paris, les Belles Lettres, 1962.

P. Roccasecca, "La finestra albertiana", F. Camerota & C. Acidini Luchinat (ed.), Nel segno di Masaccio. L’invenzione della prospettiva, Florence, Giunti, 2001, pp. 65 –67.

P. Roccasecca, "Il foglio RF 430 del Louvre: una prospettiva per due punti di distanza e la presenza a Roma di Jean Fouquet", Ricerche di Storia dell’arte, 87, 2005, pp. 13- 20.