A few months ago, I stumbled upon a giant Christmas bauble. The surface was reflective and it distorted the image of the room behind me in such a way that I wondered what it would be like to draw.
I began to do a few sketches, first with pencil and then selecting my preferred lines and going over them with pen. I decided to try colouring them with watercolour, even though it’s not my favourite medium.
Some worked better than others, but it gave me the starting point for an idea that I’ve been interested to pursue for some time. This idea links the history of tourism with the invention of linear perspective.
The particular history of tourism that I wanted to focus on was that of the Grand Tour, a tradition from the 1600s to the 1840s, whereby European young men undertook a standard itinerary around Europe, much like the gap year travels of today.
These travellers would often collect objects and images from around the world, as well as sights through means of drawing and painting. However, in order to flatten the view of the landscape to aid capturing the likeness and tones, these artists would often use a small convex tinted mirror, known as a ‘Claude Glass‘, after the popular landscape artist of the time, Claude Lorrain.
Of course, this meant that would only view their world through a reflection, rather than experiencing the ‘real’ thing, a common complaint about today’s generation, who are surrounded by cameras and screens.
This ‘flattening’ of the object produces an effect similar to photography, as the scale and context are removed from the image as described in Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Although, photography was not developed until the late 1800s, trying to capture the way in which we see has been in constant flux throughout history.
We often consider photorealistic imagery as ‘true to life’. However, this is actually based on a mathematical invention known as linear perspective, and one that has continued to inform the ways that we see and the technology that we use for capturing images.
Linear perspective was invented in Italy in the 15th Century as a way for artists to capture 3D space on a 2D plane. The first person to undertake this study was architect and sculptor Filippo Brunelleschi (1377 – 1446). Following this, his calculations were written up by art theorist Leon Battista Alberti (1404 – 1472) in his treatise on painting, De Pictura (1436).
The capturing of 3D objects in a 2D format has been of interest to artists since the invention of linear space, but after the development of photography, artists have sought to challenge this way of seeing through exposing the mechanisms of production within their work.
Equally, the photograph as an unmediated representation of reality has come into question, highlighting the role of technologies in the way we see images. These drawings therefore are the start of an investigation into the different kinds of seeing and technologies that we use to capture and index images.