I. Perspective. Although the mathematics of perspective were discovered by Philippo Brunelleschi in the early 1400's, teaching artists how to construct correct perspective images was not easy. In this 1525 woodcut, Albrecht Durer demonstrates the use of a Draftsman's Net. A wooden frame covered with a grid of black threads, together with an eyepiece - represented here by a small obelisk - permitted an artist to replicate the scene before him onto a drawing surface ruled with a matching grid. We will repeat his demonstration in class. Nobody will be asked to undress.

In this course, we consider the interwoven histories of science and Western art from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century. Our approach will be to study the major revolutions in science and mathematics during these busy six centuries, then consider the effect they've had (real or imagined) on parallel revolutions in the visual arts. The images above represent four problems we'll pay particular attention to. We'll also look briefly at how computer graphics handles each of these problems. No programming experience is required.

II. Scientic illustration. While the ancients were careful observers of nature, their knowledge of human anatomy was deeply flawed, and their scientific treatises survive only as text - no figures. Shown here is a print from Andreas Vesalius's seminal 1543 book, On the Fabric of the Human Body. With these precisely shaded and carefully labeled drawings, he revolutionized both the study of human anatomy and the art of scientific illustration. In this course we will try creating our own technical illustrations. Nobody will be flayed. III. Light and shadow. The notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) contain many studies of penumbrae - the zone of partial shadow created when an object occludes only part of a light source. Despite his legendary powers of observation, Leonardo's writings contain many misconceptions about how shadows are formed. A scientific understanding of these phenomena came only two centuries later, with the work of Lambert, Bouguer, and others during the European Enlightenment. We will repeat many of their crucial experiments in class. IV. Color. Since antiquity, artists have struggled with the question of how to organize colors into scales. Despite contributions by Newton and others, human color vision remained a mystery until the 1800's, when Young and Helmholtz proved that colors occupy a 3D space. After them, writers experimented with many ways of organizing this space. Here is a spherical arrangement proposed by Philipp Runge in 1810.

CS 48N - The Science of Art

Winter Quarter, 2003

Time and Place
Tue/Thu 2:30 - 4:00, Gates Hall 392
Marc Levoy
Office hours
Tue/Thu, 11:00 - 12:15 and by appointment

Course material

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Copyright © 2003 Marc Levoy
Last update: February 20, 2006 01:21:44 AM