Press Room Search

Current Press Releases
Archived Press Releases

News Home Archived Press Releases

Archival Information
For recent information, please see Current Press Releases.

Unique Exhibition on the History of Perspective Opens at The Getty Research Institute

The Geometry of Seeing: Perspective and the Dawn of Virtual Space
April 16-July 7, 2002
Getty Research Institute Exhibition Gallery

PRESS PREVIEW: Tuesday, April 16, 2002, 9-11 a.m.

March 20, 2002

Los Angeles--The Geometry of Seeing: Perspective and the Dawn of Virtual Space, an exhibition that examines the multifaceted nature of perspective science and its applications, will be on view at the Getty Research Institute from April 16 through July 7, 2002. Drawn primarily from the special collections of the Research Library of the Getty Research Institute, the exhibition presents a broad range of materials including books, prints, drawings, and paintings spanning a period of roughly four centuries of study and experimentation in many European countries. The Geometry of Seeing relates directly to the Getty Research Institute’s 2001–2002 scholar year theme, "Frames of Viewing: Perception, Experience, Judgment."

Thomas Crow, director of the Getty Research Institute, remarked, "For all the visitors who responded so enthusiastically to Devices of Wonder, which the Research Institute mounted at the Getty Museum last fall, this exhibition will present a wonderful opportunity to explore similar themes in the Italian Renaissance."

Exhibition Highlights a Range of Theories and Techniques

Perspectival illusionism is usually associated with a single technique developed during the Italian Renaissance for the construction of architectural space on a two-dimensional surface. The Geometry of Seeing confronts this enduring misconception and explores perspective in both its development and its many manifestations, and acquaints visitors with an extraordinary range of perspective theories and rendering techniques used by Leon Battista Alberti, Albrecht Dürer, Tommaso Laureti, Sebastiano Serlio, and many others, including Elie-Honoré Montagny, a pupil of Jacques-Louis David.

"Perspective is about seeing and about the representation of the objects seen—the word itself coming from the Greek word for optics. The fundamental principles of modern perspective science are based on Euclidean texts, where the concept of the ‘visual cone’ originated," said Roberta Panzanelli, exhibition curator and research associate, Getty Research Institute. "The appearance of perspective science in the Renaissance is tied to the renewed interest in the natural world and the laws that regulate it and, more specifically, to the phenomenology of vision and natural optics."

The first section of the exhibition shows landmarks in the history of perspective. The architect and humanist Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) first introduced the idea that a painting is the intersection of the visual cone where all the points of the object are projected, and this concept has remained the basis for the modern science of perspective through the centuries.

In the early years of the 15th century, the Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi experimented with the laws of vision and the rational measuring of space, thus laying the foundations of linear perspective. Buildings he designed in Florence—the churches of San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito, for example—reflected these ideas structurally and defined the rational construction of space based on principles of its optical configuration. Alberti put Brunelleschi’s theories into writing, and his treatise On Painting is generally considered the foundation of the science of perspective.

From an initial 15th-century systematic definition of the discipline that dealt exclusively with one-point perspective, the 16th century brought about the development of various theories and practices and increasingly illusionistic techniques. Innovations during this time included two-point perspective and anamorphosis (an image constructed on an elongated grid that distorts it and renders it unintelligible unless viewed from a specific, extremely oblique viewpoint or reflected in a curved mirror).

In the second section of the exhibition, the magic of illusionistic creation is represented by a gamut of the visual arts, architecture, theater stage design, and playful visual tricks such as anamorphic images, three-dimensional perspective, and illusionistic miniature theaters for the home.

"The artists represented in this exhibition responded to the same impulses to recreate space in a manner that most closely approximates reality that are at the origin of the concept of ‘virtual reality’ or the simulation of three-dimensional space on the screen of the computer monitor or television set today," reflected Panzanelli. "Indeed, the depiction of reality as we see it in video games and movies is the contemporary extension and perfection of this investigation, which would be impossible without the construction of space posited by perspective."

Related Programs and Exhibitions

All lectures, performances, and special events are free. Seating reservations are required. For reservations and information, please call 310-440-7300 or visit


Fracturing Perspectives – A selection of short films by artists and filmmakers exploring alternative approaches to standard perspective problems.
Outer and Inner Space, Andy Warhol, 1965, 33 minutes
Anemic Cinema, Marcel Duchamp, assisted by Man Ray and Marc Allegret, 1926, silent, 7 minutes
Serene Velocity, Ernie Gehr, 1970, silent, 23 minutes
Wednesday, May 1, 5 p.m., Museum Lecture Hall


Reflections on Anamorphosis: The Space in/of the Mirror – Professor Lyle Massey, department of art history, Northwestern University, discusses the ambiguous relation between space, distance, and viewer created by anamorphic images, and the apparent contradictions between illusionism and the rational nature of geometry. Seating for this event is limited.
Thursday, May 2, 4 p.m., Getty Research Institute Lecture Hall

Painting with Light or with Geometry? Looking into David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge – Professor Martin Kemp, history of art department, University of Oxford, examines the relationship between a painter’s use of devices for optical projection and the mapping of forms in space with linear perspective.
Friday, May 3, 7:30 p.m. Museum Lecture Hall

On view with The Geometry of Seeing is a related exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum, The Sacred Spaces of Pieter Saenredam, from April 16 through July 7, 2002.

Note to editors: color images available upon request

# # #

About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

Sign up for e-Getty at to receive free monthly highlights of events at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa via e-mail, or visit our event calendar for a complete calendar of public programs.

The Getty Research Institute is an operating program of the J. Paul Getty Trust. It serves education in the broadest sense by increasing knowledge and understanding about art and its history through advanced research. The Research Institute provides intellectual leadership through its research, exhibition, and publication programs and provides service to a wide range of scholars worldwide through residencies, fellowships, online resources, and a Research Library. The Research Library - housed in the 201,000-square-foot Research Institute building designed by Richard Meier - is one of the largest art and architecture libraries in the world. The general library collections (secondary sources) include almost 900,000 volumes of books, periodicals, and auction catalogues encompassing the history of Western art and related fields in the humanities. The Research Library's special collections include rare books, artists' journals, sketchbooks, architectural drawings and models, photographs, and archival materials.