Sculptural Seeing


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Relief, Optics, and the Rise of Perspective in Medieval Italy

Christopher R. Lakey


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Although perspective has long been considered one of the essential developments of Renaissance painting, this provocative new book shifts the usual narrative back centuries, showing that medieval sculptors were already employing knowledge of optical science, geometry, and theories of vision in shaping the beholder’s experience of their work. Meticulous visual analysis is paired with close readings of medieval texts in examining a series of important relief sculptures from northern and central Italy dating from the twelfth through the fourteenth centuries, including the impressive sculptural programs at the cathedrals of Modena and Ferrara, and the pulpits by Giovanni and Nicola Pisano at Pisa and Pistoia. Demonstrating that medieval sculptors orchestrated the reception of their intended religious and political messages through the careful manipulation of points of view and architectural space, Christopher R. Lakey argues that medieval practice was well informed by visual theory and that the concepts that led to the codification of linear perspective by Renaissance painters had in fact been in use by sculptors for hundreds of years.

Christopher R. Lakey is assistant professor of medieval art at Johns Hopkins University.

"Sculptural Seeing rewards the reader with marvelous new and original insights. It will have a significant impact on the fields of art history and medieval studies and beyond."—Beate Fricke, author of Fallen Idols, Risen Saints

Sculptural Seeing is an original and provocative study of the visual experience of medieval sculptural art.”—Suzanne Akbari, author of Seeing Through the Veil

“Lakey pores over medieval sculpture at Modena and Ferrara cathedrals, plus pulpits at Pisa and Pistoia by father and son Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, to explode the established theory that Renaissance painters 'invented' linear perspective.”—Apollo

“An erudite study…. The author’s larger argument concerning the origins of perspective may not convince all readers but should fuel productive reflection and discussion about medieval sculpture and its place in the narratives of art history.”—Peter Scott Brown,

Finalist for the 2020 ICMA Book Award
ISBN: 9780300232141
Publication Date: November 20, 2018
240 pages, 8 x 10
36 color + 100 b/w illus.