The Perspectiva Communis is one of the first works on perspective and on optics, and is considered the first modern scientific work, together with the Elements by Euclid
Johannes de Peckham (c. 1230-1292) was a Franciscan priest born in Sussex. After studying in Paris under Bonaventure of Bagnorea (St Bonaventure), Peckham succeeded Eustace of Arras as Franciscan master of the Paris faculty. After a brief stay in Rome, he returned to England where he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1279. It was probably during his stay in Rome that he wrote his Perspectiva Communis based on his research in the manuscripts of the texts of the great Arab scientist Ibn-al-Haytam, also known as Alhazen (965-1039). The text is composed according to the model given by Euclid in his Elements while using the texts of Al-Kindi, Aristotle, Saint Augustine and Miamonides. The work is divided into three main chapters: the first contains 84 propositions on vision considered from the physiological and psychological point of view; the second is constructed in 56 propositions on the reflection of light and the images formed by reflection; the third is composed of 22 propositions on the vision of refracted rays.
“The work on which Pecham’s fame has chiefly rested is the Perspectiva communis, probably written between 1277 and 1279 during Pecham’s professorship at the Papal Curia. In the first book Pecham discussed propagation of light and colour, the anatomy and physiology of the eye, the act of visual perception, physical requirements for vision. In book II he discussed vision by reflected rays… Book III was devoted to the phenomena of refraction, the rainbow and the milky way (…) The perspectiva Communis was one of the most widely used of all optical texts from the early fourteenth century until the close of the sixteenth century [influencing Leonardo da Vinci and Johannes Kepler among others], and it remains today the best index of what was known to the scientific community in general on the subject.” (D.S.B.).
The Perspectiva Communis is richly decorated with many woodcuts in the margin including the famous image of the ocular mechanism.
Broad margined copy.