Richard Read

Emeritus professor @ University of Western Australia

Framed and Unframed Art: Renaissance Perspective Science and Aboriginal Rock Painting


Following meditations on fundamental differences between unframed Australian indigenous rock paintings and the colonizing implications of Renaissance perspectival framing, an in-depth analysis of Piero della Francesca’s The Flagellation (c. 1455-65) shows how perspective science abstracts from several aspects of ordinary optical experience, including the curved spatial field, parallax and the mobility of the perceiving body. The paper then explores the relations between Florentine perspective science, the theology of moral insight, the development of commercial mathematics, and the envisioning of ‘ideal’ cities to serve, amongst other interests, the absolute power of princes and popes. The lecture concludes by considering continuities, perhaps constants, between the spatial objectivity of Piero’s and Paul Cézanne’s French Impressionist paintings and differences arising from the influence of the nineteenth-century inductive science on the painting of what is seen rather than what is known.


Emeritus Professor Richard Read is Senior Honorary Research Fellow in the Faculty of Architecture and Visual Art, University of Western Australia. Educated at the Universities of Cambridge and Reading, he taught literature at the University of Melbourne and art history at the University of Queensland before teaching several genres, geographies and centuries of art history at UWA from 1990 to 2015. He has published in major journals on the relationship between literature and the visual arts, nineteenth and twentieth-century European, American and Australian art history and art criticism, contemporary art and film, and complex images in global contexts. His book Art and Its Discontents: the Early Life of Adrian Stokes (2003) was the winner of a national book prize. His major research project on The Reversed Canvas in Western Art was funded by an ARC Discovery Grant and is partly published in several major journals. In recent years he has taught and lectured at most Australian university, the University of Bristol, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, The University of Aberystwyth, Tate Britain, The National Gallery of Victoria, The University of East Anglia, King’s College, Cambridge and the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Durham. He is currently working on the Heritage of Molyneux’s Question in Romantic British and American Painting and Art Criticism.