RENAISSANCE PERSPECTIVE, CARTOGRAPHY, AND THE BIRTH OF MODERN POLITICS
The relationship between the emergence of linear perspective during the Renaissance and scientific cartography is well known. They both inaugurated and exhibited a new relationship to the world – a de-theologised world, which the human being was now able to measure and circumscribe. Linear perspective and cartography both enabled to frame the world in a window which we could from then onwards encompass, think, visualise, and view at a glance.
“Framing” became the key operation of Renaissance art and science. The constructivism of the modern spatial mind is hence not simply about tracing lines and figures on a gridable space: It is about delineating precise objects and shapes, and framing them.
My contention is that the newfound concept of space which undergirds linear perspective and cartography, a space which could be divided, framed and organised, paved the way for the conceptual changes which occurred in political theory in the 17th century. In particular, they allowed for the theorisation of the nation-state, the essence of which is the territory. The territory reflects the same operation of framing, and of enclosing human action and activity, as do perspectival painting and cartography. Politics became spatial.
I will, in particular, take a look at the crucial nexus between cartography and the territorial state: Maps did not aim to be mere copies or images of their object, but they enabled and created it, in a way. There is little doubt that the spatial essence of the nation-state is largely owed to its newfound visualisation on a map: The territory could now be represented as a totality under the overlooking gaze of the ruler, who imitated God perusing over his dominion. Cartography was enormously instrumental in reifying and divinising modern political power, as well as in creating, and incidentally controlling, the representations of the national space.
This will lead me to investigate how Renaissance perspective and cartography played a pivotal role in transitioning from one meaning of representation to another. Michel Foucault famously stated that with the advent of the classical age in the 17th century, the concept of representation shifted from an iconic to a semiotic understanding – from the image, it became a sign. My contention is that the Renaissance twin invention of perspective and scientific cartography helped usher the era of “representation of representation”, as it also explains the growing conundrum of political representation.
Keywords: Renaissance, linear perspective, cartography, nation-state, representation.
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