Every representational image ever made is necessarily a finite framing of the outside world, a viewfinder presenting only what the creator wants us to see. This finite point of view is configured inside of the boundary or the limits of the frame, suggesting a specific spectator-object relationship in front and behind the picture place, as well as the possibility of a partially or entirely fictional construct within this restricted gaze. Leon Battista Alberti’s early treatise on painting and perspective, De Pictura (or Della Pittura) of 1435 described how artists of the 15th century were attempting to go beyond their mediaeval forebears to better model and render visible objects as if in three dimensions, rather than employing flat and symbolic stand-ins: “First of all, on the surface which I am going to paint, I draw a rectangle of whatever size I want, which I regard as an open window through which the subject to be painted is seen” (Alberti, 1435/1972, pp.54-55). These passages describing the means to achieve perspectival accuracy in turn led to various technical instruments to aid in this new era of realistic drawing, one of which was dubbed ‘Alberti’s Frame’.
Consisting of a square wooden frame with a stringed or threaded, crisscross net—rather like a square-paned or leaded window—acting as a viewing grid for the artist, the perspective machine allows the artist to map out the scene before him onto a similarly gridded sheet of paper, aiding the measurement and comparative scale of objects in the distance. Albrecht Dürer draws similar set-ups in his woodcuts, Draughtsman Making a Perspective Drawing of a Reclining Woman and Draughtsman Drawing a Lute (The Manual of Measurement), both 1525. These geometric devices gave visual artists of the Renaissance a claim to scientific precision, a precursor to the camera obscura and the photographic lens. Beyond ‘correct’ or convincing perspective, however, the power to section off portions of the visible world through mathematical means onto a picture plane gave rise to the notion of the painted image as illusionistic purveyor of truth.