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Italian Renaissance Learning Resources

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The Making of an Artist

Excerpts from Book III of Leon Battista Alberti’s On Painting

Excerpts from Book III of Leon Battista Alberti’s On Painting

Alberti dedicated On Painting to the architect Filippo Brunelleschi.

I would have the painter first of all to be a good man, well versed in the liberal arts. Everyone knows how much more effective uprightness of character is in securing people’s favor than any amount of admiration for someone’s industry and art. And no one doubts that the favor of many people is very useful to the artist for acquiring reputation and wealth. It so happens that, as rich men are often moved by kindness more than by expert knowledge of art, they will give money to one man who is especially modest and good, and spurn another who is more skilled but perhaps intemperate. For this reason it behooves the artist to be particularly attentive to his morals, especially to good manners and amiability, whereby he may obtain both the good will of others, which is firm protection against poverty, and money, which is an excellent air to the perfection of his art.

53. I want the painter, as far as he is able, to be learned in all the liberal arts, but I wish him above all to have a good knowledge of geometry….Next, it will be of advantage if they take pleasure in poets and orators, for these have many ornaments in common with the painter. Literary men, who are full of information about many subjects, which will be of great assistance in preparing the composition of a “historia,” and the great virtue of this consists primarily in its invention. Indeed, invention is such that even by itself and without pictorial representation it can give pleasure….

55. Very often, however, ignorance of the way to learn, more than the effort of learning itself, breaks the spirit of men who are both studious and anxious to do so. So let us explain how we should become learned in this art. The fundamental principle will be that all the steps of learning should be sought from Nature: the means of perfecting our art will be found in diligence, study, and application….


Leon Battista Alberti, On Painting, trans. Cecil Grayson (London: Penguin Books, 1991), pp. 87–92 passim. Introduction copyright © Martin Kemp, 1991.