Visual Rhetoric and Computer Media


Session Title:

  • Short Paper Presentations

Presentation Title:

  • Visual Rhetoric and Computer Media



  • As the contemporary writings of artists such as Alberti and Leonardo make clear, the use of perspective in Italian Renaissance art was not promoted in a naive belief of its power of aiding the realistic depiction of three-dimensional space. Renaissance artists were well aware of the short-fallings and compromises of perspective space as it stood in relation to actual human perception. The true power of perspective lay in its ability to efficiently control the presentation of painted objects within the viewer’s gaze. Perspective enabled painting to achieve the clarity of disposition, selective isolation, emphasis and de-emphasis of figures as was taught within the composition of rhetoric. Italian Renaissance art addressed the viewer directly by means of engagement and visual immersion. Painted and sculpted figures sought eye contact with the viewer and gestured towards him. Large scale frescoes, such as Masaccio’s Trinity fresco in Santa Maria Novella, Florence, were able to directly extend the real architectural space of the church into the painted space.

    Contemporary with the emergence of this visual technology was a genre of devotional handbooks which encouraged the reader towards forms of private meditation upon Biblical subjects in which they were instructed to imagine themselves as though actually a bystander of the events. Such books taught that one should select locations familiar to the reader so that they may be more immediately imagined. These merged such devotional routines as the Stations of the Cross with forms of visual mnemonics derived from Classical rhetoric. Adherents of such mnemonic techniques organised their memories by locating a series of distinctive and suggestive objects within a space either familiar or easily recalled. Information was retrieved by the means of an imaginary walk within the building. The “Ante delle memoria locale,” of Angostino del Riccio, published in 1595, recommends the use of Santa Maria Novella as such a memory building. Painting and private practice were combined in an information technology focused around the acquisition and retention of knowledge through highly experiential activities “It is necessary that when you concentrate on these things in your contemplation, you should do so as if you were actually present at the very time when he suffered. And in grieving you should regard yourself as if you had your Lord suffering before your very eyes, and that he was present to receive your prayers.” Psuedo-Bede, Little book on the meditation on the Passion of Christ divided according to seven hours of the day, mid-late 13th Century.

    My current Doctorate research is engaged in a re-assessment of Renaissance visual practice in the terms outlined above as a possible model for the development of computer media. Rather than placing an emphasis upon the technical issues of perspectival representation which have influenced the development of modern three-dimensional computer graphics, my work is focused around issues of interactive engagement and the utilisation of such media for purposes of the rhetorical address to the user. It is not realism but the enhanced subjectivity of personal response which computer media ought to develop towards, the experiential engagement with media, which, in itself, must lead towards a more heightened ethically questioning form of user interaction.