De pictura  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

De pictura (English: "On Painting") is a treatise on painting written in 1435 by Italian architect and art theorist Leon Battista Alberti. It was first published in Italian in 1436. It is the first in a trilogy of treatise on the "Major arts" which had a widespread circulation during the Renaissance, the others being De re aedificatoria ("On Architecture", 1454) and De statua ("On Sculpture", 1462)

Alberti was a member of Florentine family exiled in the 14th century, who was able to return in Florence only from 1434, in the following of the Papal court during the Council of Florence. Here he knew contemporary art innovators such as Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello and Masaccio, with whom he shared an interest for humanism and the Classic art. Alberti was thus the first to write down a theoretical resume of the art innovation in Florence at the time.


De pictura aimed to describe systematically the figurative arts through "geometry". Alberti divided painting into three parts:

  • Circumscriptio (Italian: disegno), consisting in drawing the bodies' contour
  • Compositio (commensuratio in the Italian version of the treatise), including tracing the lines joining the bodies
  • Receptio luminum (color), taking into consideration colors and light.

The treatise contained an analysis of all the techniques and painting theories knew at the time, in this surpassing medieval works such as The book of Art by Cennino Cennini (1390). De pictura also includes the first description of linear geometric perspective devised by Brunelleschi around 1416; the invention was explicitly credited by Alberti to the Florentine architect, to whom was dedicated the 1436 edition.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "De pictura" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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