Friday, May 30, 2008


Perspectiva (Lautensack) 1564 e

Perspectiva (Lautensack) 1564 j

Perspectiva (Lautensack) 1564 f

Perspectiva (Lautensack) 1564 g

Perspectiva (Lautensack) 1564 h

Perspectiva (Lautensack) 1564

Perspectiva (Lautensack) 1564 a

Perspectiva (Lautensack) 1564 b

Perspectiva (Lautensack) 1564 c

Perspectiva (Lautensack) 1564 d

Perspectiva (Lautensack) 1564 i

Perspectiva (Lautensack) 1564 k

"First edition of this rare treatise on perspective and draughtsmanship, important for its use by artists, architects, and goldsmiths. The woodcuts are all the author's original work, though he was clearly influenced by Leonardo and Dürer.

The text begins with elements of linear geometry, and moves towards more detailed presentations of two-dimensional figures and the construction of stereometrical bodies. The third part, on human proportion, owes much to Dürer's 'Vier Bucher von Menschlicher Proportion' (1525); this section also includes woodcuts illustrating the proper proportions of a horse.

Lautensack's discussion of perspective is accompanied by illustrations of basic geometrical forms, ending with a fine folding plate depicting the Emperor's Hall in the Römer, Frankfurt's city hall and the site of the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperors. An early imprint from the famous Feyerabend publishing dynasty, the author's preface indicates that the printing of this work began on July 26, 1563.

[Heinrich] Lautensack (1522-68), an artist, goldsmith, and woodblock-cutter, lived in Frankfurt am Main. He was influenced by his father, Paul, and by his brother, Hans Sebald Beham*, both skilled painters and engravers. This book is extremely scarce; few copies have survived the constant use by the artists who utilized this work for their profession." [source]

This bookseller quote (repeated at various sites) in relation to Lautensack's 1564 treatise on artistic perspective, 'Des Circkels und Richtscheyts, auch der Perspectiva und Proportion der Menscher', constitutes - as best I can tell - the major online commentary with regards Lautensack's life and career.

I have obviously lifted the above illustrations - relating to biological perspective - from the latter section of this (164pp) book. My attention was primarily drawn to the style of representation seen for example in the first image above in which the geometric shapes are substituted for the figure's body parts.

Much of Dürer's voluminous works on perspective are online (see links below) and I think I've skimmed through the bulk of the illustrations. As the quote above suggests, Lautensack had relied on Dürer as a source and indeed, quite a few of the illustration styles in Lautensack's work are very very similar, although not actually copied as far as I can tell.

But what I didn't see in Dürer's work - and this is the part that intrigues me - is this removal of the underlying body parts and their replacement with block shapes. Schematics are overlaid on bodies frequently - the perspective lines - and occasionally geometric shapes are illustrated alone or in combination, but not really in a way as to suggest an underlying bodily form. They are just piles of blocks to a viewer's first glance although, no doubt, the detailed accompanying text would assign them greater meaning.

The reason I find this intriguing, which may turn out to be just another of my random musings with no basis in reality, is that when I see a woodcut like the first image above, I'm reminded of the brilliant proto-surrealist work of Braccelli who took this body part-as-shape design to the extreme, substituting real world objects, like screws and plates and bandages, in addition to simple geometric shapes, for his 1624 album of paired fanciful figures, 'Bizzarie di Varie Figure' (linked below).

Did Lautensack's 'Perspectiva' from 1564 make it as far as Florence prior to 1624? Who knows? But it amuses me to think of Braccelli doodling at his kitchen table in a standard artistic reference book from his age and ultimately producing one of the most uniquely innovative suite of prints in the last five hundred years.

I'm not sure I want to know if I'm wrong. It's these kinds of imagined connections that make the continued quest for esoteric imagery that much more enjoyable. So, let me down gently, if at all.


Karla said...

I had NO IDEA that the idea that you could draw figures by starting with geometric shapes went this far back (for that matter, as I looked at these I was guessing they were from about 1900 and only imitating an older style).

In my childhood it seemed as though all the how-to-draw books figured that the way to go was by drawing some circles, squares, and triangles and then gradually transforming them into human or animal figures. I always found this a bizarre concept and completely failed to see how this could possibly work.

In my 20s I found a brilliant greeting card that reversed the concept. The title was "How to Draw Basic Shapes" and it showed the progression from a drawing of a parrot to something like a circle and a triangle. Unfortunately I think the recipient of said card just thought it was a sign of my strange sense of humor.

peacay said...

There is also a great image by Luca Cambiaso here from here from around the same time period. I occasionally go searching in the vain hope that the several hundred images of his that survive have been digitised. It's one of my longlasting quest-come-hopes.

And of course there is the 'theory' out there that Bracelli was in fact parodying works by Jacques Callot.

So my 'musing' about Lautenback ---> Braccelli really is just daydreaming.

George said...

Great find. I share Karla's surprise that this drawing technique is so old. I've noticed a similar trend in some contemporary works on fortification. They start with some discussion of Euclidean geometry and some drawing methods and then demonstrate how those abstract shapes can be used to lay out fortifications. Admittedly, bastions are far more conducive to geometric design than human figures! But the principals seem interesting. In particular I'm thinking of the works of Ambroise Bachot, Le timon (1587) and Le gouvernail (1598).

Karla said...

The Cambiaso is very odd and sort of endearing. It's sort of as though he took the idea of Nude Men Fighting (I had a particular one in mind but I think that image had 10 of them while the British Museum is offering 18 fighters, c. 1528, in its online shop) and combined it with Flatland in 3D (she said, raving incomprehensibly).

peacay said...

I saved an example image from each of the titles mentioned by George: here and here.

That sort of abstract geometry doesn't seem so innovative viewed today.

Karla said...

Knowing that they're fortifications makes them more interesting, but I found myself wishing Bachot had thrown in a few footsoldiers, or even (shocking thought) jazzed up the fortifications with some putti.

Kittybriton said...

Given the complexity of drawing both human, and equine bodies, this method really does provide some useful shortcuts for the artist in a hurry. But I always felt that it was really only effective if supported by a good knowledge of anatomy, and regular practice in drawing from life.

Steve Shriver said...

The whole book is now available on Heidi:

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