. . . this is an occupation known as painting, which calls for imagination, and skill of hand, in order to discover things not seen, hiding themselves under the shadow of natural objects, and to give them shape with the hand, presenting to plain sight what does not actually exist.
Here Cennino Cennini, in Il Libro dell’ Arte, describes his profession. Many have written “how to” books about art, but Cennino, because of his vantage point (14th century Florence) and his broad technical knowledge, holds a special place. He describes in detail the most basic tasks like how to make a quill pen. And yet he does not neglect the larger goals. Practicing with the humble pen, he explains, will make you “capable of much drawing out of your own head.”
For Cennino, the power of art to convey the imaginary is its most important role. Painting, he writes,
. . . justly deserves to be enthroned next to theory, and to be crowned with poetry. The justice lies in this: that the poet, with his theory, though he have but one, it makes him worthy, is free to compose and bind together, or not, as he pleases, according to his inclination. In the same way, the painter is given freedom to compose a figure, standing, seated, half-man, half-horse, as he pleases, according to his imagination.
Cennino does not neglect studying form nature, or the importance of style. But the power of art to present “to plain sight what does not actually exist”, to give form to the imaginary, remains the guiding motivation.
Art & Imagination, part II