Anachronistic and teleological notions about one-point perspective and its relationship to optical reality or the observation of space have led to a mass denigration of earlier pictorial strategies for rendering volumes, situating them, and specifying their relationships to each other. However, if one has spent any time in a medieval hill-top commune, such as Siena, San Gimingnano, Volterra, Assisi or Cortona, one knows that the enchanting jumble of sweet and savory-colored buildings, tiled rooves, jagged walls, myriad towers, gothic windows, crenellations, and empty loggie seen everywhere in trecento painting, correspond rather accurately to one’s visual experience urban architecture and topography in such places.
To put it more plainly, Siena looks like Ambriogio Lorenzetti’s Good Goverment in the City and the 14thc. renderings of the built environment are, on balance, fairly accurate. One couldn’t extrapolate a groundplan of the structures seen in any of these images, the way one can with Piero’s Flagellation, but then again they were never intended to have a cartological application. A similar case can be made for the representation of the contado—the rural or uncultivated topography landscape beyond the city walls.