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Florence and Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science

Florence and Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science


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The use of perspective in Renaissance painting caused a revolution in the history of seeing, allowing artists to depict the world from a spectator's point of view. But the theory of perspective that changed the course of Western art originated elsewhere-it was formulated in Baghdad by the eleventh-century mathematician Ibn al Haithan, known in the West as Alhazen. Using the metaphor of the mutual gaze, or exchanged glances, Hans Belting-preeminent historian and theorist of medieval, Renaissance, and contemporary art-narrates the historical encounter between science and art, between Arab Baghdad and Renaissance Florence, that has had a lasting effect on the culture of the West.

In this lavishly illustrated study, Belting deals with the double history of perspective, as a visual theory based on geometrical abstraction (in the Middle East) and as pictorial theory (in Europe). How could geometrical abstraction be reconceived as a theory for making pictures? During the Middle Ages, Arab mathematics, free from religious discourse, gave rise to a theory of perspective that, later in the West, was transformed into art when European painters adopted the human gaze as their focal point. In the Islamic world, where theology and the visual arts remained closely intertwined, the science of perspective did not become the cornerstone of Islamic art. Florence and Baghdad addresses a provocative question that reaches beyond the realm of aesthetics and mathematics: What happens when Muslims and Christians look upon each other and find their way of viewing the world transformed as a result?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674050044
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 08/31/2011
Edition description: Translatio
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 384,254
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Hans Belting is Professor for Art History and Media Theory at the Academy for Design in Karlsruhe, Germany.

What People are Saying About This

Frankfurter Rundschau

You will find no better guide through this thicket of philosophy, optics, crafts and theology in East and West than Belting – and certainly no one else could make it so clear that these are not just old problems we can gladly leave to historians… If we look carefully we can still discover that most of what we thought we knew was wrong. Belting gives us a fresh new eye for art and the world.

Art: Das Kunstmagazin

This book is an eye-opener for readers who will come to understand the limitations and drawbacks of the kinds of images that are omnipresent in our society in the form of films and photographs.

Süddeutsche Zeitung

The connection Belting establishes between long-known facts in the history of science and the origins of the "window view" is a stroke of genius.

Die Tageszeitung

Florence and Baghdad is a refreshing appeal to view the genesis of the unconscious visual foundations in both cultures in all their historical complexity and to illuminate their interdependence.

Customer Reviews