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The Science of Art

The Science of Art

By Ananya Jain

MARCH 2017

‘The Sciences’ and ‘The Arts’; two disciplines that may appear far apart through the myopic lens of textbook knowledge, but in reality have ties interwoven into tight and unbreakable bonds.

There is a common misconception, specifically amongst high school students that Science and Art are at two ends of the education pole.The first is perceived as logical, reasoning based and objective whilst the latter projected as abstract, imaginative, and subjective.

However the reality extends far beyond these rigid divisions. Be it the employment of analytical chemistry in preserving age old pieces of art(tradition techniques of X-ray diffraction, fluorescence, and upcoming ones such as matrix-assisted laser desorption), the in depth study of human and even animal anatomy introduced during the renaissance, and most importantly the physics of light and perspective; scientific principles have been essential forces behind works of art for centuries.

The year 1420 saw a massive artistic breakthrough with Filippo Brunelleschi’s invention of linear perspective drawing (accurately projecting three dimensional figures onto a two dimensional surface). 15 years later, this technique was explained and published by Leon Battista Alberti as ‘projective geometry’ – an essential idea with applications in both mathematics and physics. Both of these ideas transformed art into an extremely ‘objective study’. Perugino’s, Delivery of the Keys and Rafael’s, School of Athens are some examples of mastery of the concepts of relativity, symmetry and invariance with regard to the technique of perspective.

An illustration from a sixteenth-century manual on how to draw a simple picture in linear perspective. Experiments in the early 1400’s by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) produced a geometrical formula for 2 dimensional representation of perspective that became the standard model for the realistic depiction of space from the Renaissance onward. Credit:


If we talk about the greatest examples of art across time and space, images of wonders such as the geometric stone carvings on the marble walls of the Taj Mahal, the beautiful Buddhist inscriptions from the Ashokan empire, and the multiple stained glass windows in churches and cathedrals across Europe, instantly come to mind. All of these , built with discoveries in architecture, mechanics, engineering and advancement in machinery (carving machines, glaziers’ tools), highlight an inherent collaboration between the two disciplines.

Even in the modern world today, science and technology have become catalysts for success in the field of art. The field of graphic design for instance, is working with the mere tapping of a mouse-creating bright coloured, bold images in any shape, size and design like never before. It has taken a new direction, where an artist may not even have to physically lift a pen in order to create his/her masterpiece.

If we glance into the pages of history, the greatest artists across times have also been the most revered scientists. Be it Leonardo Da Vinci or Michelangelo. Their paintings were crafted with the greatest precision, after hours of study, and their scientific advances followed suit. The fact remains that Mona Lisa’s miraculous smile was not all ‘magic’, but more so a result of extraordinary measurement and science.

Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa

There is still massive scope for exploration, the disciplines have been engaged in dialogue for centuries and in this ever changing and advancing world, will do so for many more to come! After all, scientists create and discover theories that change the world as we may know it, and artists in the same way impact this world with revelations and visuals, both made immortal by the beauty and wonder of their works.

Rohil Bahl