One of the most rewarding aspects of walking through any Italian city or town is the abundance of carefully thought out vistas and framed perspective views offered to the casual observer. No matter what the age or background of the spectator, a great view is a delight to all and one of the special privileges of Italian city life. The same may be said of the Italian landscape, although I will focus here on the urban experience exclusively. As visitors, we tend to commercialize these instants by calling them "photo opportunities" or "picture moments," but despite our tourist tendencies for kitsch, these moments of aesthetic reflection are among the most important characteristics of urban life -- in fact they may be traced back to the "Pythagorean root" of Western civilization.
As early as Vitruvius' treatise On Architecture (1st
century BC), emphasis was placed on the notion of eurythmia, which not
only implied good rhythm and direction but also a structured unity to
the elements of a building. The primary function of eurythmia was to arouse
a pleasant sensation in the spectator through optical refinements. By
making allowances for perspectival distortions one compensated for what
appeared irregular to the natural eye. Vitruvius used the expressions
venustas species and commodus aspectus when describing eurythmia,
and these terms meant first and foremost "pleasant appearance." Both Plato
and Aristotle discussed the primacy of sight extensively. Plato praised
sight as the most exalted of the senses, providing a clear knowledge of
the natural world and its underlying principles of order and harmony.
Similarly Aristotle claimed that all men delight in sight and its capacity
to differentiate between things. Vitruvius' description of eurythmia proceeded
from these pronouncements, ensuring that a building, in addition to being
ideal in itself, appeared ideal to the viewer. For Vitruvius the ingenuity
and judgment required in exercising eurythmia were not only essential
for the creation of good architecture, but were symptomatic of the gifts
distinguishing the good architect.