Leon Battista Alberti, the theorist of perspective, in his book De pictura talked about the way he painted. The theory of perspective was the first step in the long path that led to the invention of photography. In the quote and the note that follow, we can see a parallel with Massimo Vitali’s work. His different large format cameras are open windows to the world he chooses to capture. His shoots present realities in which bodies are sometimes cropped or repeated (as in the diptychs). Stories happen; characters show themselves to the spectator who is free to imagine relationship between them.
Here alone, leaving aside other things, I will tell what I do when I paint. First of all about where I draw. I inscribe a quadrangle of right angles, as large as I wish, which is considered to be an open window through which I see what I want to paint. Here I determine as it pleases me the size of the men in my picture.
Alberti, Leon Battista. On Painting. [First appeared 1435-36]
The term istoria, for which no present-day verbal equivalent exists, is introduced by Alberti towards the middle of the second book; the concept of istoria dominates the whole treatise and it is developed at length in the last half of the work. Any reinterpretation of the word must be derived from the treatise itself without dependence on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century histories, storie, or ‘histories’. For Alberti the term istoria was of greatest consequence–he puts it at the pinnacle of artistic development. Painting was not to impress by its size but rather by its monumentality and dramatic content. ‘The greatest work of the painter is not a colossus, but an istoria. Istoria gives greater renown to the intellect than any colossus.’ The themes he urges are primarily derived from ancient literature, yet this is not to be merely an art of illustration. The figures are to be so ordered that their emotion will be projected to the observer. There is to be variety and richness in the painting, yet the painter must exercise self-restraint to avoid excesses. In the new art which Alberti advocates the painter must be capable of employing perspective construction for the visual, temporal, and spatial unity which it implies. He must be able to paint with light and shade to obtain modelling, and he must understand the effective use of colour and gesture. To control these many disparate factors the artist of necessity must be a well educated man, but if he handles them well, his art will reward him by rendering ‘pleasure, good will and fame’. When all the requirements of Alberti’s aesthetic come together in one work of art, the soul of the beholder will be captivated and he will be elevated by his experience. The istoria advocated by the treatise, then, is directed towards the expression of a new humanist art which will be capable of incorporating the finds of the literary and theological humanists while at the same time satisfying the demands of the artistic humanist.