What is Linear Perspective? a system for representing three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional flat surface

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What is Linear Perspective?

  • a system for representing three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional flat surface

  • developed in Florence in the early 15th century by Filippo Brunelleschi and Leon Batista Alberti

The Invention of Linear Perspective

Development of Linear Perspective

  • Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) was the sculptor and architect who demonstrated the principles of perspective through mathematics

  • In 1415, Brunelleschi painted his picture of the Baptistery on the surface of a small mirror, right on top of its own reflection. 

Brunelleschi’s “Peep Show”

  • To demonstrate the fact that his painting was indeed an exact replica that could fool the eye, Brunelleschi drilled a small hole in the mirror and then stood directly in front of the Baptistery, looking through the peephole to see the real building. 

  • He then held up a second, clean mirror in front of his painted panel.  The second mirror blocked the view of the real building, but now reflected his painted version on the original mirror.     

Brunelleschi’s “Peep Show”

  • By holding up the panel and pressing the hole to one eye while holding a mirror with the other hand, the viewer could see the painting’s reflection.

  • A viewer standing in the cathedral doorway could check the painted illusion against the real view.

Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72)

  • architect and writer who was the first to formulate rules that artists could follow

  • imagined the picture surface as an “open window” through which a painted world is seen

  • showed how a perspective “checkerboard pavement” is created within the picture space—in which the receding parallel lines represent the visual rays connecting the spectator’s eye to a spot in the distance

Application of Linear Perspective

  • Brunelleschi devised the method of perspective for architectural purposes.

  • He is said by Manetti to have made a ground plan for the Church of Santo Spirito on the basis of which he produced a perspective drawing to show his clients how it would look after it was built.

  • We can compare this drawing with a modern photo of the actual church.

Application of Linear Perspective

Early Approaches

  • Prior to the Renaissance, artists were less concerned with the illusion of reality and more concerned with the content and symbolism of their work.

Ancient Egyptian

  • only the front planes of objects are shown

  • figures assembled from separate views

  • depth suggested by overlapping forms

Defining Space Before the Renaissance

  • The size of each element in the image related much more to its importance, rather than it's placement in a space.

Judging by the Eye

  • Giotto introduced a new kind of realism by creating convincing spatial arrangements.

  • He angles the building, removing side walls to reveal the cubic interior.

Judging by the Eye

  • The sense of depth is partly achieved in this painting by the diminishing size of the floor tiles.

  • The receding lines of the floor converge toward a single focus (vanishing point), although the other receding diagonals converge toward points higher up in the picture.

Judging by the Eye

  • Dutch master van Eyck created highly convincing interiors and landscapes by relying on his own observations rather than theoretical rules.

  • In this painting, an intimate interior is created by the sloping lines of the boarded floor and beamed ceiling, the relative size of objects, and the use of light.

The Renaissance

Masaccio: a “hole in the wall”

  • Ten years after the invention of linear perspective, Masaccio applied the new method of mathematical perspective even more spectacularly.

  • This fresco’s painted architectural framework is so carefully constructed that it could almost have been translated from an architectural plan.

A “hole in the wall”

Paolo Uccello: Playful Measurement

  • explored the geometry of nature and objects

  • studied how to solve perspective problems

  • combined scientific probing with the love of pattern and splendor

Perspective in Wood

  • trompe l’oeil wood inlay panels

  • The private study of Federico da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino

Perspective in Wood

Perspective: Eye Levels

Normal Viewpoint

High Viewpoint

Low Viewpoint

Piero della Francesca: Divine Measurement

Piero della Francesca: Divine Measurement

  • perspective so logical and precise that scholars have been able to reconstruct the room as if it were real architecture

  • architectural proportions and dimensions reflect the divine order of things

Andrea Mantegna: Eyewitness Art

  • perspective of the oculus constructed according to the upward gaze of an observer standing directly below

Andrea Mantegna: Eyewitness Art

  • Christ shown in a dramatically foreshortened pose

  • heavy head propped on a pillow so that his features can be seen

  • feet projected out of the picture so viewer can focus on gaping wounds

Perspective Foreshortening

  • Foreshortening is based on studies from life as well as perspective principles.

  • Figure is encased in a gridlike “box” divided into equal units.

  • When box is laid on the ground, the units diminish as they recede.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Explorations

Leonardo da Vinci’s Explorations

Leonardo da Vinci’s Explorations

Leonardo da Vinci’s Explorations

Aerial Perspective

  • Leonardo da Vinci

Aerial Perspective

Atmospheric Perspective

  • a coloristic device used to accentuate the perception of distance

  • based on the optical effect caused by light being absorbed and reflected by the “atmosphere”: a mist of dust and moisture

  • first used by Leonardo da Vinci

Albrecht Dürer

  • Perspective, Human Anatomy, and Proportions

Albrecht Dürer

  • He traveled to Italy to learn about perspective.

  • Besides his great studies of perspective, he was also interested in human anatomy and proportion.

Dürer’s Perspective Aid

  • frame consisted of wooden

  • stand

  • grid threads probably made of

  • silk

Dürer’s Perspective Aid

  • The grid is used by the artist to copy the outline of the model’s form onto a squared drawing surface

  • An eyepiece, fixing the artist’s viewpoint, is positioned at a specific distance—twice the frame’s height—from the device.

  • The closer the net is placed to the object, the more foreshortened the perspective.

Anamorphic Art

  • Hidden Messages


  • refers to a deliberately distorted image, which, when viewed head on, is almost unrecognizable

  • only when the image is viewed from a certain angle does it appear

First Anamorph

Anamorphic Art

Anamorphic Art

  • An anamorphic image is an extreme case of perspective, where the viewpoint is at the side, and near the plane, of the picture itself.

Drawing the Distorted Grid

Anamorphic Art

  • This portrait superimposes the long-nosed, compressed head of a young boy on a panoramic landscape.

  • When the picture is viewed from the right-hand edge, the portrait is transformed into a living likeness of Edward VI.

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