The Birth of Perspective

Renaissance artists focused on developing new techniques and artistic methods of composition and aesthetic effect. In addition to the renewed interest in antiquity, these included the formulation of perspective and the emphasis on architectural forms. Their objective was to create art that would respect proportions and that would closely resemble reality. One of the distinguishing features of Renaissance art is the development of linear perspective. Although before Renaissance artists such as Giotto tried to use perspective in their paintings, it was only with the Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who demonstrated its principles, and the writings of Leon Battista Alberti, who wrote about the perspective and presented a perspective construction in his De Pictura in 1435, when perspective was formalized as an artistic technique.

Linear perspective is a mathematical system used to create the illusion of space and distance on a flat surface. To properly use the linear perspective a painter has to imagine the canvas as an "open window" through which he sees the subject of the painting. In this open window it is necessary to draw straight lines to represent the horizon, divide the painting with different horizontal lines and fix the vanishing point. The vanishing point​ is usually located near the centre of the horizon. From this point it is necessary to draw the so-called "visual rays" that connect the viewer's eye with the point in the distance. These lines helped artists find the prospective points of the canvas thanks to their intersection with the horizontal lines. Generally, an artist use visual rays to align the edges of the walls and flooring.

After Brunelleschi and Alberti’s studies, almost every artist in Florence and Italy tried to represent three-dimensional objects using the geometric perspective in their paintings. From Donatello, Masolino and Paolo Uccello to Perugino and the great masters of the High Renaissance, Leonardo, Raphael and also Piero della Francesca, who wrote about this artistic technique (De Prospectiva Pingendi) in his Della Pittura in 1470. If Alberti’s studies limited to provide a general basis for perspective, Della Francesca covered solids in any area of ​​the image surface and used many illustrated figures to explain the mathematical concepts. The development of perspective by Renaissance artists led in the later centuries to the development of algebraic and analytic geometry, relativity and quantum mechanics.


Text by Cristina Motta

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