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.






More about Jesuit history, tradition and spirituality


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Jesuit Education . . . its history, directions and purpose
Jesuit Emblems . . . research of G. Richard Dimler, S.J.
Spiritual Exercises . . . which has changed millions of lives
Retreat in Daily Life . . . what is involved in an Ignatian retreat?
FU Ignatian Tradition . . . that elusive quality so much misquoted
PAUL MIKI'S 400th anniversary the first Japanese Jesuit martyr (TH #8)
All Saints . . . veneration of the saints . . . why?
Saint Thomas . . . forgiveness . . . Easter Sunday and Low Sunday
Computer/Teaching Notes . . . Humberto Eco and Murphy's laws
JESUIT GEOMETERS: 56 Jesuit geometers of the early Society
COMPANIONS OF JESUITS: A tradition of collaboration
GOSPEL ILLUSTRATIONSCompositions of place for the Exercises

Joan of Arc: Insignis* {*outstandingfollower of Christ}


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Seismology, The Jesuit Science. a Jesuit history of geophysics


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