Anthony Scibilia
University of Illinois
2, Avenue de Paris
78000 Versailles FRANCE

The geometric figure of similar triangles fundamental to the theorization and execution of images according to a system of one-point perspective in fifteenth-century Tuscany appears in a vast majority of later medieval basilican churches in Europe, beginning as early as the eleventh century. This figure appears in plan, but is palpable to the ambulatory observer in a series of axial alignments of pier/column edges located near the observer with pier/column/wall respond bodies further away. Though such alignments may be found in pre-eleventh-century architecture in Europe and beyond, it is only from the eleventh century on in Europe that these similar triangles are consistently lodged in the building's enclosing walls, a trait that links the perspectival spaces of such buildings with the phenomenon of the framed perspective painting and bas-relief, the triptych in particular.

N2002-ScibiliaSimilar triangles in the architecture of Brunelleschi:
a) towards a vanishing point ; b) towards an observer; c) towards an observer

The triptychal and perspective structure of these interiors is echoed in the overtly perspectival elaboration of the layered portal. As a radically compressed version of the church interior, the layered portal stands between the extensive and sprawling perspective space of architecture, and the collapse of such space into the flat painted panel.

The perspectival traits of later medieval basilican church interiors and portals differ throughout Europe, but two spatial types - one Tuscan, one northern - emerge, and display striking correspondence with the spatial and temporal structure of later Tuscan and northern painted perspective.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University in the City of New York, where he has earned M.A. and M. Phil. degrees, and taught for several years. In a doctoral dissertation titled "Perspective Before Perspective: The Spaces of Medieval Architecture," Mr. Scibilia shows that the spatial properties of fifteenth century perspective are anticipated in the design of medieval basilican churches dating from as early as the 11th century. Mr. Scibilia, who loves teaching, began to lecture as an undergraduate; prior to entering graduate school he had already spoken at several universities, colleges and seminars in the United States and abroad on the music and acoustics of Romanesque and Gothic churches, a thesis topic that earned him honors at Cornell University. As an architectural photographer, Mr. Scibilia has travelled extensively throughout Europe and the United States, and produced more than 10,000 images. His photographs have been published widely, and his work may be found in the libraries of many of the major universities, colleges, and museums in the United States. While still in high school, Mr. Scibilia was accepted to the Eastman School of Music, where he studied piano. After leaving Columbia, he plans to return to the piano, and attend the New England Conservatory of Music, where he has been invited by pianist Russell Sherman to teach on topics of visual art, music, and poetry.

The correct citation for this article is:
Anthony Scibilia, "Perspective Before Perspective", pp. 223-235 in Nexus IV: Architecture and Mathematics, eds. Kim Williams and Jose Francisco Rodrigues, Fucecchio (Florence): Kim Williams Books, 2002.