Thursday, February 7, 2013

From Vedutismo to Mandelbrot Fractals

Last month, I went to see the Vedutismo (In Italian veduta means view) exhibition in Musée André-Jacquemard, with a few friends.

The Vedutismo is the 18th century school of painters who specialised  in scenes of daily life in Italian cities and mainly Venice.

The first maestro was Canaletto, who immortalized the various faces of the Venice of his time. He had perfectly mastered the technique of perspective, and used a camera obscura to create the layout his canvases. His paintings are impressive for their architectural and geometrical accuracy and great attention to brilliant details. They are often bathed in sunlight.

The second great painter of the exhibition, Guardi, was influenced by Canaletto in his early years, but gradually evolved to a less linear, sort of impressionist style. The scenes tend to be less glamorous, the waters are murkier, and the skies cloudy. But despite this looser painting style, the geometry and perspective are faultless.

Enough words, here are the canvases, two from each.
Can you recognize who painted what without reading the captions ?

Piazza San Marco - Canaletto

Piazza San Marco - Guardi

Il Canal Grande e l'Ingresso al Cannaregio - Canaletto 

La festa della Sensa - Guardi

After walking through the halls of the exhibition and thoroughly enjoying each canvas, from near and far, we sat down for a five o'clock tea and cake. Soon the debate turned to who was the best: Canaletto or Guardi ? Ok, idea was not so much to reach a decision, but to discuss the subject and air our impressions/appreciations.

I have maybe a slight preference for Canaletto, as I am fascinated by the accuracy of the geometry, and transported by the finesse and expressiveness of the smallest details. From a distance, the painting is as beautiful as you can expect, but if you zoom in and watch it from a very short distance, you can see many small hardy noticeable sub scenes that are almost as accomplished as a full sized painting.

Actually Canaletto paintings made me think of fractals..!

Fractals are peculiar mathematically defined sets that have the strange property to be self-similar, meaning that they look alike from near and far. In real life, for example, a very 'fractal' object is a cloud. It looks similar on many scales. As a consequence, a cloud's distance and size are very difficult to assess with your eyes only. Try.


Maybe the most famous fractal is the Mandelbrot set - represented below. You can zoom in the representation of fractal millions of times (in fact infinitely) and see the same patterns repeat themselves over and over again at increasingly small scales. This is puzzling at first sight.

Mandelbrot set

As an interesting exercise in my endeavor to become computer litterate again, I set myself to code the Mandelbrot set using the newest web technologies (HTML5, JavaScript, Canvas, Workers).

Here is the result, including a user guide. As expected, it is fascinating !
Below are a few of examples.