Vredeman de Vries: Geometry and Freedom

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Olaf Recktenwald


As a result of his highly imaginative perspectival illustrations, late sixteenth-century Dutch architect Hans Vredeman de Vries remained at the pivot point of transferring perspectival developments from Italy to a northern European setting. He brought about a revolution in the genre of the architectural city-view, stood as a giant of that artistic category, and initiated a widespread architectural following that could be felt in buildings from every province of his home country to as far away as regional towns in Peru.

This essay introduces the use of geometry in Vredeman’s illustrations from his 1604 treatise Perspective and gives an account of the meanings behind vantage points, picture planes, and the viewing subject in those representations. A commentary on the notion of repetition in perspectival vistas and an explanation of the significance surrounding the placement of the centric point in his engravings is also dealt with. The centric points of Vredeman’s plates are seldom placed on a blank architectural surface. Instead, we encounter deliberate openings that allow us to travel beyond the pictorial plane and that remind us of the artificial nature of the environment being shown. Someone might theoretically be looking back at us, configuring the world before us, and thereby reinforcing the arbitrariness of our point of view.

Overall, this paper aims to look anew at the symbolic significance of the perspective engravings of Vredeman de Vries. The writing ends with a summary on what it might mean to transcend a perspective.

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