Translated as “Perspective of regular bodies,” Jamnitzer’s book exemplifies the overwhelming resurgence and appreciation of classical texts during the Renaissance. Not only does the artist present his drawings through a Latin introduction, but the regular bodies mentioned in the title are based on the five Platonic solids of Euclidean geometry: the tetrahedron, hexahedron, octahedron, icosahedron and dodecahedron. With the shapes’ foundation expressed by the ancient mathematician, Euclid (c. mid-4th century BCE), Plato (c. 428-347 BCE) equated their spatial characteristics as inherent to the elements – fire, earth, wind, water, and heaven or ether respectively.
Through the translation of the Latin text we find out that Jamnitzer believed he developed a new and improved mode of illustrating perspective and that this treatise showcased his ability to achieve what no one had done before him. He highlighted this new method through the progressive manipulations of the polyhedra mentioned above. Though unable to attest to the mathematical skill of Jamnitzer’s designs, there is no doubt this set of engravings is artfully rendered and ingeniously beautiful.
At a time when artistic ingenuity was becoming increasingly recognized, Jamnitzer’s work received high praise; a copy was kept in the famous Kunstkammer (art cabinet) of August I, Elector of Saxony (1553-1586). Objects collected for the Kunstkammer were prized for their imaginative design, manipulation of natural elements and scientific invention; Jamnitzer’s treatise was used as a source of inspiration for turning ivory works on a lathe representative of the ideals sought after by collectors. The Cooper-Hewitt’s Perspectiva corporum regularium is not August’s, but a reprinting sold by the Amsterdam bookmaker Jean Janson around 1618.
Julia Pelkofsky is a graduate student in the History of Decorative Arts and Design at Parsons, the New School for Design. She is a master’s fellow in the Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design Department.