The Painter’s Secret Geometry by Charles Bouleau

Although written in 1964, this is a very thorough and well referenced/researched analysis of (mostly) pre-renaissance era paintings and the often geometric basis of those compositions. As with cubism, pre-raphaelite, even ancient Egyptian art: each era has its own style and influences and this book describes the core of middle ages period art. The book goes into detail of many paintings and statues to dissect and understand the placement of people, objects, and backgrounds in the composition. As a photographer, I found this book incredibly useful for inspiration and understanding of deeper compositional options I can use within my own art.


Chapters in the book include: Monumental art, The frame, Geometrical compositions in the Middle Ages, Musical consonances, Geometry after the middle ages, Dynamic compositions, Compositions in space, Picture framework in the nineteenth century, and Solutions of the problem in contemporary painting.

As can be seen from the above, author Bouleau compares and contrasts many different periods of art in order to put the art of the middle ages into context. From the musical note placement of friezes in ancient Greece to Renaissance era framing, there is so much to learn about composition and placement. Although many have noted that this is a great reference for learning the golden mean, I actually found so much more to digest.  The complexity of some of the paintings, like using perspective sloping architecture or tall trees in order to create endless triangles and squares within triangles and squares was very elucidating.

If I was a painter, this would be open daily for inspiration and to push me to create the most purposeful and sophisticated images possible. As a photographer, I reread the examples every few months ago to refresh and inspire.

Since this is an old text, the images are in black and white and the writing is, indeed, very academic and dry.  Be prepared for an old fashioned textbook feel.  It’s a shame it hasn’t been rewritten or updated by a more modern author to take adventure of 21st century publishing.  But still, for those serious about their work, this is a must-have reference.

Reviewed from a ecopy provided by the publisher.

This entry was posted in ARC, Book Reviews, non fiction, Photography. Bookmark the permalink.

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