On painting – by Leon Battista Alberti

I have recently been reading ‘On Painting’, written between the years 1435 – 1436. Born in Genoa Italy in 1404, Leon Battista Alberti died in Rome aged 68. His writings express the prolific and diverse talents of the Renaissance Man. he held a wide knowledge of architecture, mathematics, and science, and in his book On Painting, puts forward the maxim that to be a good visual artist one must have a thorough grounding in geometry.

“I want the painter, as far as he is able, to be learned in all the liberal arts, but I wish ‘him’ above all to have a good knowledge of geometry”

Since attempting painting again after such a laps the actual business of painting became an issue, and I wanted to go back in time to explore what past writings on the subject might have to offer. Could the coded history of one mans thoughts on painting throw some light my way? Doubts became certainties after reading that knowledge of geometry must be an integral part of the painting process, as I know nothing of it.

Attempting to enter a lost time in order to glean information, might almost be akin to my reading a fairy story. Then, people spoke differently, dressed differently, and assumed different outward social mores, which were reflected in the paintings of their time. This was intriguing to me.

Yet, in spite of my attempts, I have not managed to glean helpful insights regarding the stuff that has filled the massive gap concerning painting from then, until now. I’m afraid I am not up to summoning the relevant perceptive and factual knowledge required in order to tackle that which might take an art historian years of study, the end of which may produce another large art history tome to be perused.

And so, I am thrown back again upon my own limited painting vocabulary, as what was then is no longer now, and past painters machinations stay in the grey shadows of longing and mystery, hiding their secrets from me. After all, history is but a fantasy of sorts, how can we ever really know? History is perhaps akin to death, whereby no one returns to tell us their stories in the flesh, concerning art or otherwise.







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