i had the experience of being flooded with light and clarity when i first opened and browsed this book. my enthusiasm is in part because of kemp's extraordinary scholarship and detailed command of paintings and art publications across the entire span of western art. but it's also because the story of artistic imaging over the past six centuries is woven around the european romance with linear perspective, which has become so discredited and disliked by artists that it qualifies as a repressed memory. (like any buried memory, perspective surfaces in the dreamlike digital animations of intergalactic science fiction and first person computer games, which take perspective effects to the ultimate level of technical accuracy and artistic triviality.) kemp unearths those repressed perspective memories and shows how vital they were to the development of art and the connections between art and the wider culture of the times.
it is jaw droppingly fun to see how intensive, sophisticated and singleminded was the artistic interest in optical and perceptual issues of seeing. everyone will find special surprises here, but mine include kemp's spatial analysis of velazquez's "las meninas," and the extraordinary drawings and engravings produced c.1800, which force us to realize that we are already looking at "photo graphs," light drawings created by hand, at a time when film photography was not yet practical. there is a large section on various optical devices utilized in visual arts, including the camera obscura and camera lucida, and an excellent section on the evolving understanding and use of color, from the renaissance to seurat.
poignant for me was the victorian fascination with light as a spiritual quality, which comes through in turner's paintings and ruskin's amazing perspectival studies of "clouds" -- images that verge on op art. the intelligence and strength of these images reveal a road left untraveled in art, which turned toward the perceptually driven styles of impressionism and fauvism instead. as a bonus to the many interesting visual exhibits, the writing is lucid, sensible and alert. an invaluable publication.