Perspective - Part 1

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Before we sink our teeth into linear perspective, here is what Britannica says about it: "method of graphically depicting three-dimensional objects and spatial relationships on a two-dimensional plane or on a plane that is shallower than the original"

Leon Battista Alberti

Linear perspective is a mathematical, scientifically proven system for creating the illusion of multidimensional objects and distance on a two dimensional surface.  We owe the understanding of this remarkable system to the Italians, who is the early 1400s developed its concepts in Florence. The great architect and artist Brunelleschi (1377-1446) first presented its principles, but it wasn't until Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) put down mathematical perspective in his book: De pictura (1435; On Painting), that artists begun to learn and follow this system.  Alberti is known, among his many other accomplishments, for the construction of the facade of the famous Santa Maria Novella church in Florence that he begun in 1456.  Original Latin cross plan church by Fra Sisto and Fra Ristoro, 1246 to 1350.

Santa Maria Novella

It is believed that Leonardo da Vinci learned its principles as an apprentice of Verrocchio in Florence.  If you see pre-Renaissance works by various artists, you can clearly see the lack of adequate linear perspective in their paintings. However, after the inception of the rudiments of mathematical linear perspective, the art of painting was changed forever.  Most casual observers never think twice about the rules and principles of perspective, but for the serious artist, they are to be learned and, carefully followed.  Few things ruin, otherwise finely executed paintings, than poor perspective.

In the drawing for his Adoration of the Magi, Leonardo draw a series of lines (convergence or orthogonal lines) that converge in one point (vanishing point) on the horizon (horizon line.)  Let us define these terms:

The horizon line runs across the canvas at the eye level of the viewer. The horizon line is where the sky appears to meet the ground.

The vanishing point should be located somewhere on the horizon line. The vanishing point is where all parallel lines (orthogonals) that run towards the horizon line appear to come together.

Orthogonal lines are "visual imaginary rays" helping the viewer's eye to connect points around the canvas to the vanishing point. An artist uses them to align the edges of all elements.

The graphic on the right illustrates the uses of the the definitions we have introduced to this point.  These will be further explained and applied in the next lesson.

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Graphics by Santa Maria Studio. All Rights Reserved. 2003