florence is baghdad


It is hard to do justice to the brilliance and complexity of this book, which provides no less than a complete re-evaluation of the origins of perspective in Western art. Hans Belting, an internationally recognised authority on the theory of art from Hieronymus Bosch to Marcel Duchamp, argues that the scientific and artistic genesis of linear perspective did not come out of the Florence of Giotto and Brunelleschi as we are usually told by art historians, but instead first emerged in eleventh-century Baghdad in the work of Ibn al-Haytham (965-1040), a mathematician born in Basra who became known in the West as Alhazen, ‘the Arab Archimedes’. Educated in Baghdad, Alhazen spent most of his life in Cairo, where he invented the camera obscura and wrote his Kit?b al-Man?zir, or Book of Optics, begun in 1028. The book circulated under the title Perspectivae before it was printed in Latin in 1572, and exerted an enormous influence on Western science, from the work on optics by Roger Bacon (1214-94) to the rediscovery of the camera obscura by Johannes Kepler (1571-1630).

more from Jerry Brotton at Berlin Review of Books here.