Diagramming Spatial Intimacy: Mapping the Annunciation of Fra Angelico and Sandro Botticelli

Presented by: Christopher Manzo

In ‘Home – A Short History of an Idea’ Rybczynski (Rybczynski, 1986) chronicles the history of ‘comfort’ as an evolving cultural idea (concept) embodied via its ongoing and changing manifestation in domestic architecture. He further notes that as ideas regarding ‘comfort’ evolved in the early sixteenth century, so did the actual ‘home’ in northern Europe. Using a comparative spatial analysis of early Renaissance Annunciation paintings, the author will explore how pictorial depictions of intimate interior space are foundational to a broader cultural understanding of architectural interiors. Much has been written historically about Architecture and the objectifying eye; or the building as object (Alberti, 1452), but until rather recently, little has been written regarding the building enveloping the drama of daily life or of the sensual qualities required to make a comfortable and intimate interior space (Pallasmaa, 2012). With the publication of Leon Battista Alberti’s Della pittura in 1436 (Alberti, 1436) there was a rapid change in spatial depictions of the Annunciation from those of a static and doctrinal representation of a theological dogma to that of a spatially complex, emotionally rich, and often uncomfortably intimate conversation between two women. While most contemporary painters employed the new perspective methods in a symbolic (Panofsky, 1922) or honorific manner (Witham, 2014), several early Renaissance artists went further, moving from a didactic illustration of a fixed concept (the doctrine of the Annunciation) to a nuanced exploration of human participation in and response to this biblical story by employing the new mathematic techniques to structure and represent spatial intimacy. Using Rybczynski’s (Rybczynski, 1986) theoretical framework of ‘intimacy and privacy,’ the author will illustrate the evolving nature of a precursor to ‘comfort,’ that of the concept of ‘intimacy’, as evidenced in two Annunciation paintings of Fra Angelico and Sandro Botticelli. Building off of existing pictorial analysis (Scott, 2007), the author will perform a comparative spatial analysis, using both linear perspective (Scolari, 2012) and 3-dimensional CAD modeling studies (Hart, 1999) to examine the changes in spatial intimacy depicted in these evolved Annunciations. Lastly, the author will tie this evolving concept of intimacy back to the principal Humanist theme of the Renaissance – that of the centrality of lived human experience in our cultural understanding of our place within the cosmos.


  • Rybczynski, W. (1986). Home - A Short History of an Idea. Viking Adult.
  • Alberti, L. B. (1452). De re aedificatoria.
  • Pallasmaa, J. (2012). The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses.
  • Panofsky, E. (1922). Perspective as Symbolic Form - 1997 Translation.
  • Scott, T. (2007). The Annunciation: Symbolic Functions of Space in Renaissance Depictions of the Annunciation . Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies.
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