The Virtual Window
From Alberti to Microsoft
- 2007 Winner of the Phi Kappa Phi Faculty Recognition Award at University of Southern California.
372 pp., 7 x 9 in, 83 b&w illus.
- Published: November 14, 2006
- Published: February 13, 2009
From the Renaissance idea of the painting as an open window to the nested windows and multiple images on today's cinema, television, and computer screens: a cultural history of the metaphoric, literal, and virtual window.
As we spend more and more of our time staring at the screens of movies, televisions, computers, and handheld devices—"windows" full of moving images, texts, and icons—how the world is framed has become as important as what is in the frame. In The Virtual Window, Anne Friedberg examines the window as metaphor, as architectural component, and as an opening to the dematerialized reality we see on the screen.
In De pictura (1435), Leon Battista Alberti famously instructed painters to consider the frame of the painting as an open window. Taking Alberti's metaphor as her starting point, Friedberg tracks shifts in the perspectival paradigm as she gives us histories of the architectural window, developments in glass and transparency, and the emerging apparatuses of photography, cinema, television, and digital imaging. Single-point perspective—Alberti's metaphorical window—has long been challenged by modern painting, modern architecture, and moving-image technologies. And yet, notes Friedberg, for most of the twentieth century the dominant form of the moving image was a single image in a single frame. The fractured modernism exemplified by cubist painting, for example, remained largely confined to experimental, avant-garde work. On the computer screen, however, where multiple 'windows' coexist and overlap, perspective may have met its end.
In this wide-ranging book, Friedberg considers such topics as the framed view of the camera obscura, Le Corbusier's mandates for the architectural window, Eisenstein's opinions on the shape of the movie screen, and the multiple images and nested windows commonly displayed on screens today. The Virtual Window proposes a new logic of visuality, framed and virtual: an architecture not only of space but of time.
The digital revolution has globalized a word and a nation that Leon Battista Alberti first translated from the realm of building to that of representation in 1435. anne friedberg's wide-ranging and masterly book shows that the recent renaissance of Alberti's 'window' is neither coincidence nor simple homonymy. From linear perspective to moving pictures to split screens, from see-through to light-receiving and light-emitting devices, Friedberg brilliantly demonstrates that the virtual window has been the most successful single tool for mimesis, command, and control in the history of Western civilization.
Mario Carpo, Ecole d'Architecture de Paris-La Villette
Unlike most theorists of digital culture, Anne Friedberg brings a deeply historical perspective to the visual metaphors of our wired world. The Virtual Window charts transformations in visual knowledge leading from Renaissance perspective to today's computer desktops by tracking shifts in the physical and philosophical meaning of 'windows.' Its long view offers an important methodological model to media studies and art history alike.
David Joselit, history of Art, Yale University
This is an enthralling account of the theory and practice of using windows and screens as a visual metaphor.
The Electronic Library
The Virtual Window is, quite simply, brilliant. Even as Friedberg employs an interdisciplinary historical sweep that most scholars would be incapable of, she offers grounded and very tightly focused discussions of specific theories and visual practices related to the use of windows and screens from the Renaissance to the age of new media.
John Caldwell, Professor, Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media, University of California, Los Angeles