The Invention of Perspective

Perspective (from Latin: “perspicere“-to see through) is the technique of depicting spatial objects on any surface in accordance with those apparent contractions of their sizes, changes in the outlines of form and light-and-shade relations that are observed in nature.


Early history

For millennia, the impetus for the development of art was the presentation of Depth, both geometric and in a more general sense. For the first time in history, in 5th Century BC, Plato mentions the use of 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.

Fresco from the villa of Publio Fannio Sinistore in Boscoreale, currently located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Fresco from the villa of Publio Fannio Sinistore in Boscoreale, currently located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Created: 43-30 BC

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

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

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

Masolino da Panicale, Healing of the Cripple and Raising of Tabatha, 1426-27, fresco, Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy.
Masolino da Panicale, Healing of the Cripple and Raising of Tabatha, 1426-27, fresco, Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy.

Image source: http://www.poderesantapia.com

There are oral accounts of Manetti (1480) and Vasari (1550) ft the heart of the history of perspective. Between 1405 and 1425, the Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) analyzed them and demonstrated them to his colleagues in two dramatic peep shows. (By holding the panel and pressing the hole to at least one eye, and holding the mirror with the opposite hand, the viewer could see the reflection of the image. A spectator, standing at the door of the cathedral, could check the drawn illusion as compared with the real view.)

It is likely that the central vanishing point was 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.

Image source: https://cdn.kastatic.org/ka-perseus-images/fae695cb8498e6a3ac50a22d9fd692c677968bbb.png
Raphael, School of Athens, 1509-1511, fresco (Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican)

Image source: https://khanacademy.org

After Masolino’s breakthrough, many Renaissance painters turned to the perspective construction of space in their compositions, in particular, Masaccio, Mantegna, Fra Angelico and Leonardo. This phenomenon reached its peak around 1500, as evidenced by the famous work of Raphael.

In the 18th Century, a new impetus in art was given by the assessment of two-point perspective.

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

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org

Types of perspective.

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

  • One-point perspective: The drawing has only one vanishing point on the horizon. The objects in the drawing are made up of lines that are parallel or perpendicular to the viewer’s line of sight, and these lines converge at the vanishing point.
  • Two-point perspective: The drawing has two vanishing points on the horizon. within the illustration, these vanishing points will be positioned 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 ° to represent impossible scenes. It begins with the horizon line, followed by four equal vanishing points, denoting four vertical lines.

Info sources:  http://www.renaissanceconnection.org/lesson_art_perspective.html

http://www.webexhibits.org/sciartperspective/tylerperspective.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perspective_(graphical)