Nadal and Perspective Art

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Ignatius, Jerome Nadal and Perspective Art

Nativity scene: one of the 153 Images of Nadal's book providing
a carefully identified composition of place.

The ever vigilant Ignatius

Seizing upon Brunelleschi's communication breakthrough called perspective art, Ignatius Loyola perceived it as a powerful aid in visualizing his composition of place . He was so impressed by the clarity of these state-of-the-art perspective diagrams of machinery that he was determined to adapt these easy-to-read conventions to telling the gospel story by using the most universal of all languages, that of pictures. Just as a realistic picture of a water pump could enable a skilled craftsman to reconstruct his own pump, so could a realistic gospel scene enable retreatants to reconstruct a gospel event. The realism of this new kind of drawing put the viewer right into the scene. In a collaborative effort, Ignatius commissioned his vicar Jerome Nadal to find highly motivated artists and printers who knew how to draw realistic perspective pictures of the gospel stories and print them in books.

The scientific revolution and religious art

Prespective geometry which enabled three-dimensional shapes to be displayed in the two-dimensional pages of books helped bring about the scientific revolution. These pictures provided photographic accuracy that paved the way for daVinci's technology and Galileo's science. The mechanical arts were greatly enhanced by perspective drawing which furnished intelligible diagrams for assembling the engines of the scientific revolution, thereby encouraging practical inventions. Moreover, for the first time, many illustrated scientific textbooks drawn in perspective were available to the brilliant young minds such as Tycho Brahe, Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Galileo, and William Harvey, who later became the founders of modern science. Books on technology became quite popular because they were easy to read. They explained nature's laws with pictures of the recently invented machinery. One could now easily visualize how intricate pieces of machinery would fit together.

In his book The Heritage of Giotto's Geometry: Art and Science on the Eve of the Scientific Revolution , Samuel Y. Edgerton presents perspective geometry as a direct cause of some of the most spectacular achievements of both the artistic and scientific revolutions. He describes this linear perspective expertise which started with Giotto and was refined by Brunelleschi, who formulated the rules of perspective geometry and introduced the vanishing point

Collaboration to facilitate the Composition of Place

Ignatius made the connection between these mechanical sketches and gospel images. Nadal also realized the new opportunities available with the recent advances in printmaking technology and set out to find artists and printers who knew how to draw and print these pictures. He found a willing and generous helper in the Antwerp publisher, Christopher Plantin, who pledged his effort and his capital. Together they spent the rest of their lives at the task. The artists engaged in the work were Bernardino Passeri, Marten de Vos, Jerome Wierix and Anton Wierix. In 1593 Nadal's book Evangelicae historiae imagines ("Pictures of the Gospel Stories") was eventually finished by Plantim's successor, Martin Nutius. Edgerton calls it: "One of the most remarkable Counterreformation publications of the late sixteenth century." Charles Sommervogel's Jesuit Bibliography {Vol 5 p. 1519} counts 153 engravings in Nadal's book. Edgerton speaks of Nadal and his pictures: "Nadal, like any competent sixteenth-century engineer, depicted sequential moment in the picture with a block letter keyed to a caption below." Letters A, B, C, . . . identify significant events in the scene.

Nativity scene copied from Nadal's book
by a Chinese artist for Chinese readership.

Perspective art brought by the Jesuits to China

When the European Jesuits arrived in China in 1560, they were pleased to discover China's proficiency in astronomy, mathematics, engineering and medicine. The discovered, however, a glaring lacuna. The Chinese were neither skilled in geometry nor in its various applications such as perspective drawing. Better late than never, perspective geometry and art arrived in China along with the brilliant Jesuit, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), who carried along Nadal's Imagines as an aid for teaching the gospel message. Ricci praised Nadal's book: "This book is of even greater use than the Bible in the sense that while we are in the middle of talking to potential converts, we can also place right in front of their eyes things that with words alone we would not be able to make clear." With the collaboration of Chinese artists Ricci duplicated Nadal's images adapting it for a Chinese readership, using oriental features. Then he brought these perspective images of science, technology and the gospel stories to the imperial court at Beijing in 1601, hoping to convince the emperor of the truths of Christianity. In doing so, he introduced perspective geometry to the Chinese.

Collaboration is as old as the Society Countless are the creations in the arts and sciences from lay collaborators who worked with Jesuits throughout the Society's history in Jesuit apostolates of all kinds. These collaborators shared the vision and ideals of Ignatius. In fact, over the centuries Jesuit triumphs sometimes were due to the work of dedicated laity perhaps as much as to members of the Society. The last four Jesuit General Congregations have urged apostolic collaboration with the laity. Collaboration is not a new idea: it started with Ignatius and Nadal.

Visit the Jesuit Resource Page for even more links to things Jesuit.

Adventures of Some Early Jesuit Scientists

José de Acosta, S.J. - 1600: Pioneer of the Geophysical Sciences
François De Aguilon, S.J. - 1617: and his Six books on Optics
Roger Joseph Boscovich, S.J. - 1787: and his atomic theory
Christopher Clavius, S.J. - 1612: and his Gregorian Calendar
Honoré Fabri, S.J. - 1688: and his post-calculus geometry
Francesco M. Grimaldi, S.J. - 1663: and his diffraction of light
Paul Guldin, S.J. - 1643: applications of Guldin's Rule
Maximilian Hell, S.J. - 1792: and his Mesmerizing encounters
Athanasius Kircher, S.J. - 1680: The Master of a Hundred Arts
Francesco Lana-Terzi, S.J. - 1687: The Father of Aeronautics
Francis Line, S.J. - 1654: the hunted and elusive clock maker
Juan Molina, S.J. - 1829: The First Scientist of Chile
Jerôme Nadal, S.J. -1580: perspective art and composition of place
Ignace Pardies, S.J. - 1673: and his influence on Newton
Andrea Pozzo, S.J. - 1709: and his perspective geometry
Vincent Riccati, S.J. - 1775: and his hyperbolic functions
Matteo Ricci, S.J. - 1610: who brought scientific innovations to China
John Baptist Riccioli, S.J. - 167I: and his long-lived selenograph
Girolamo Saccheri, S.J. - 1733: and his solution to Euclid's blemish
Theorems of Saccheri, S.J. - 1733: and his non Euclidean Geometry
Christopher Scheiner, S.J. - 1650: sunspots and his equatorial mount
Gaspar Schott, S.J. - 1666: and the experiment at Magdeburg
Angelo Secchi, S.J. - 1878: the Father of Astrophysics
Joseph Stepling, S.J. - 1650: symbolic logic and his research academy
André Tacquet, S.J. - 1660: and his treatment of infinitesimals
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S. J. - 1955: and The Phenomenon of man
Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J. - 1688: an influential Jesuit scientist in China
Juan Bautista Villalpando, S.J. - 1608: and his version of Solomon's Temple
Gregory Saint Vincent, S.J. - 1667: and his polar coordinates
Nicolas Zucchi, S.J. - 1670: the renowned telescope maker

Influence of Some Early Jesuit Scientists

The 35 lunar craters named to honor Jesuit Scientists: their location and description
Post-Pombal Portugal opinion of Pre-Pombal Jesuit Scientists: a recent conference
Seismology, The Jesuit Science. a Jesuit history of geophysics

Another menu of Jesuit Interest

Jesuit history, tradition and spirituality

Visit the Jesuit Resource Page for even more links to things Jesuit.

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