The Invention of Perspective

Perspective is the technique of depicting spatial objects on any surface with changes in the outlines of form, and light-and-shade relations that are typically observed in nature.

Early History

For a millennium, the driving force for development of art was the presentation of Depth. For the first time in history, during the 5th Century BC, Plato uses perspective in the scenery for dramatic performances based on the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles. No example of Greek perspective paintings has survived, but we can imagine the meaning of their technique based on an analysis of Roman copies (probably from Greek artists) from the ruins of Pompeii, in the first century AD.

别墅的壁画Publio Fannio Sinistore我n Boscoreale, currently located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
别墅的壁画Publio Fannio Sinistore我n Boscoreale (43-30 BC)

Image source:

Greek and Roman artists skillfully depicted volumes and space in their frescoes, yet not based on a precise perspective construction. The artist used an intuitive understanding of the concept of convergence.

Cappella Brancacci- the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, Italy. It is sometimes called the
Cappella Brancacci- The Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, Italy

Image source: Ramella

Many artists abandoned the concepts of linear perspective in the 14th century. Among them are Cimabue,乔托and the Lorenzetti brothers. Giotto realized the idea of convergent parallels without using an exact vanishing point.

Another photo of Cappella Brancacci, a detail of the fresco that decorates the Chapel.
Cappella Brancacci- The Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, Italy

Image source: Ramella

There are oral accounts of Manetti (1480) and Vasari (1550) at the heart of the perspective history. Between 1405 and 1425, the Florentine architectFilippo Brunelleschi(1377-1446) analyzed them and demonstrated them to his colleagues in two dramatic peep shows.

Central Vanishing Point

The central vanishing point was likely used in 1423 for the first time by Masolino da Panicale (1383-c. 1440), in a painting that tells two separate stories: the healing of the crippled and the resurrection of Tabitha.

Raphael, School of Athens, 1509-1511, fresco (Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican).
School of Athens (1509-1511) by Raphael

Image source: N. Weber

The Tribute Money (1423) fresco in the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence.
The Tribute Money (1423) fresco in the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence

Image source: Mei

After Masolino’s breakthrough, manyRenaissancepainters turned to the perspective construction of space in their compositions. In particular,Masaccio, Mantegna, Fra Angelico, andLeonardoimplemented the technique. Additionally, the phenomenon peaked around 1500, evident by the famous works ofRaphael.

In the 18th Century, a new driving force within art emerged: two-point perspective.

Piazza San Marco with the Basilica by Canaletto, Italy, Venice.
Piazza San Marco with the Basilica (1720) by Canaletto, Venice, Italy.

Image source: sabino

Perspective Types

To evaluate perspective accuracy, we need to have a clear understanding of the rules:

  • One-point perspective:图纸上e vanishing point. The objects are of parallel or perpendicular lines to the viewer’s line of sight, and these lines converge at the vanishing point.
  • Two-point perspective: Drawings have two vanishing points. Within the illustration, these vanishing points are arbitrarily along the horizon. One point represents one set of parallel lines, another point represents another.
  • Four Point Perspective:Also called infinity point of view, it is a curved version of two-point perspective. The four-point perspective image can represent a 360° panorama and even beyond 360° when presenting impossible scenes. It begins with the horizon line, followed by four equal vanishing points, denoting four vertical lines.

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