Pentiment and Fantastic 16th Century Polyhedrons!

virtuelle-belle
5 min readJun 30, 2023

I found both this video game and this manuscript in December 2022, and in the months following, Pentiment (2022) and Geometria et Perspectiva (1567) have lodged themselves in my brain. Their visual style is similar, to be sure, with the colorful woodcuts of either title recalling one another in a century-spanning game of ping-pong.

From https://pentiment.obsidian.net

However, I wanted to learn more about the potential further connections between the two because I am a recent MA graduate who cannot for the life of me stop assigning myself essays.

Lorenz Stöer’s work has outlasted the finer details of his life. We know he was born to Nuremburg woodcut designer Niklas Stöer sometime in the 1530s. We know his wife died in either 1556 or 1557. We know his last drawing is from 1599. We know he lived until at least 1621.

Frankly, the most we know about him is his most famous work, Geometria et Perspectiva, published in 1567.

The title page reads as follows according to Christopher Wood’s translation from the original German text: “containing various ruined buildings, useful to intarsia workers, as well as for the special pleasure of many other amateurs; ordered and arranged by Lorenz Stöer painter and citizen in Augsburg” (Wood, p. 240).

Title Page of Geometria et Perspectiva. From the University of Tübingen

“Intarsia” refers to patterning within woodworking through the use of different colors.

Following the title page, there is no more text, only eleven fantastical woodcut images of floating polyhedrons surrounded by ruined buildings. The polyhedrons are firmly in the foreground and appear out of time from the otherwise organic ruins and overgrown foliage.

From the University of Tübingen

Disparate as this woodcut manuscript may seem from a 2022 video game title, upon finding this text I couldn’t help but remember Pentiment. Directed by Josh Sawyer and developed by Obsidian Entertainment, the story follows artist Andreas Maler. Strikingly similar to Stoer, Maler is a Nuremburg-based artist working in 16th century Germany.

Throughout Pentiment, the player and other characters can physically climb into the illustrations of the texts they’re exploring. The rich illustrations must have felt like another precious world copied, preserved, and beautified through great artistic effort.

Stöer’s Geometria et Perspectiva woodcuts feature only one human crawling among his wordless ruins and polyhedrons. In his art, Stöer is as unconcerned with man as he is with the realism of his floating polyhedrons.

From https://pentiment.obsidian.net

Much of Pentiment takes place in a scriptorium, or room for copying and writing manuscripts within a monastery. Pentiment acknowledges the fading of medieval economic and political systems, and much of the storyline reckons directly with this push-pull of tradition and change.

Pentiment plays with themes of morality salient to the 16th century, with discussions of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and taxation of the villagers at the forefront of tension in the monastery and Bavarian village.

Class is also a major feature of Pentiment. The upheaval of the transition away from the dominance of Catholicism and medieval economic systems feature in everyday lunchtime conversations with villagers. Presented in this way, the player has to reckon with questions of survival when villagers are struggling to make ends meet in a system which favors the church and nobility.

Andreas Maler is the perfect character to inhabit because he straddles the two worlds, seamlessly wandering among villagers, barons, and clergy. The villagers marvel at his good fortune and wealth. The clergy doesn’t deign to loan him books from their sumptuous library.

Pentiment also features sequences within Maler’s mind in which figures like Socrates and Dante’s Beatrice guide him through decision-making, often with each counsel having wildly different advice as to the correct thing to do.

From https://pentiment.obsidian.net

Struggle and tragedy follow both Lorenz and Andreas, though I have no desire to spoil Andreas’s story in Pentiment. However, regarding Stöer, the mid-to-late 1550s were a difficult time for him. Though he received King Ferdinand I’s royal copyright in 1555, he either never completed the manuscript, or no copies exist. Stöer’s wife passed one or two years later, and he then moved from Nuremburg to Augsburg, giving up his citizenship in the former.

From the University of Tübingen

Stöer’s work is far from limited to his most famous folio; rather, Geometria et Perspectiva immediately preceded and perhaps led to a commission from Hans Fugger for a series of landscape paintings. Additionally, he displayed an immense fascination for geometric design and art throughout his career, with hundreds of similar works appearing from the 1560s through the 1590s.

Perhaps the two texts are disparate in time and form. But you have to admit there’s something decidedly Pentiment-esque about Stöer’s title page line, “Who would do right by everyone? No one would even try” (translated by Wood, p. 240).

For a view at the full manuscript in color, go to the University of Tübingen’s website: https://idb.ub.uni-tuebingen.de/opendigi/El54_qt#p=5

Sources:

https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/the-geometric-landscapes-of-lorenz-stoer-1567

https://s18798.pcdn.co/christopherwood/wp-content/uploads/sites/2785/2016/05/lorenz-stoer-treatise-on-perspective-reduced.pdf

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/718394

https://idb.ub.uni-tuebingen.de/opendigi/El54_qt#p=5

https://pentiment.obsidian.net

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