The first treatise on the rules of perspective was written by Alberti in 143536. It is in part a handbook for artists on how to apply the perspective rules in their works as well as a manifesto of the values of modern art, Renaissance style. The sources of Alberti’s treatise were: the work of the Florentine artists, Masacchio, 140128, a painter of frescos and Donatello, 13861466, a sculptor; and the experiments in perspective drawing by Filippo Brunelleschi, an architect, painter and sculptor who was primarily responsible for the introduction of linear perspective. The second printing of Alberti’s treatise has a dedicatory preface to Brunelleschi.
Another early Renaissance artist and mathematician, Piero della Francesca, wrote several treatises after Alberti arguing that painting was synonymous with perspective. To him and to other artists following him, “the visible world could be reduced to mathematical order by the principles of perspective and solid geometry.” (Leeman, p. 22).
The idea of linear perspective came from ancient sources, the most influential of which was the Geographica (Cosmographica), an atlas written by Ptolemy, an astronomer who lived in Alexandria in the second century A.D. The atlas was discovered and brought to Florence in 1400 and translated into Latin by the Greek scholar Emmanuel Chrysoloras. Contained within the atlas were three methods of transcribing a sphere—the earth—on to a flat surface with least distortion. The third method of transcription was most pertinent to artists.
Here Ptolemy speaks more directly of the eye as the discerning focal point, and of the sphere as the object to be transcribed, held so that the line markinq the point of the center of the then known world acts as a horizon line in direct line with the viewer's eye. He noted that if the sphere were transparent, the encircling rings above and below this ring would appear as ellipses, while the ring through the known part of the world in line with the viewer’s eye would appear straight. Not until Brunelleschi’s experiments was this principle of the horizon line and one point perspective put to artistic use.
Another use of Ptolemy’s mapping procedure which became an important addition to Renaissance painting was his practice of using a grid system to transfer scale drawings. The grid, in the Renaissance, became an important element in the construction of art works which were meant to look natural and without distortion even though they were painted on curved ceilings of buildings. Later, in the sixteenth century, this grid system made both the illusion of extended architectural space and anamorphic paintings possible. The Florentine artist Masacchio was the first to transfer details from a drawing on to the Trinity fresco in the Santa Marie Novella using the grid technique.
Vasari, a Renaissance biographer of artists, when speaking of Masacchio said, “. . . the best painters follow nature as closely as possible (since painting is simply the imitation of all living things of nature, with their colours and design just as they are in life).” Once the message was made clear that the best paintings were those that matched up with the real world, the stage was set for the ultimate show of realism, the trompe l’oeil or illusionistic type of painting that attempted to trick viewers into thinking they were standing in front of a real open window or staring up into the inside of a real dome in a church.