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Perspective. Piero della Francesca. Ideal City (1475). Oil on canvas. What is Linear Perspective?. a system for representing three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional flat surface developed in Florence in the early 15 th century by Filippo Brunelleschi and Leon Batista Alberti.

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Piero della Francesca. Ideal City (1475). Oil on canvas.

What is linear perspective

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

The Invention of Linear Perspective

Development 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. 

The Baptistery in Florence

Brunelleschi s peep show

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 show1

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

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


Leon Batista Alberti

  • based his system on the height of the human figure, being 3 braccia tall

  • drew a rectangular picture area, imagined as an open window

  • divided the ground line into scaled braccia

  • fixed the central vanishing point by drawing a vertical line three braccia high

  • from the center of the ground line

  • drew diagonals—orthogonals—joining the ground line to the vanishing point

Application of linear perspective

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 perspective1

Application of Linear Perspective

Brunelleschi's proposal drawing of the  interior of Santo Spirito (1543)

Interior of Brunelleschi's Santo Spirito

Early approaches

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

Ancient Egyptian

  • only the front planes of objects are shown

  • figures assembled from separate views

  • depth suggested by overlapping forms

Byzantine medieval


Duccio di Buoninsegna. The Virgin and Child with Saints (c.1315).

Egg tempera on poplar.

  • the gold backgrounds suggest majesty and internal light

  • denies any sense of depth, allowing figures to inhabit a spiritual space

  • figures, however, modeled in light and shade

Defining space before the renaissance

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

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.

Giotto. Birth of the Virgin Mary (1320s).


Judging by the eye1

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.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti. The Presentation

in the Temple (1342). Tempera on wood.

Judging by the eye2

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.

Jan van Eyck. The Arnolfini Marriage (1434).

Oil on oak.


A convex mirror, like the one in the

painting, may have been used by

van Eyck as a compositional aid.

The renaissance

The Renaissance

Masaccio a hole in the wall

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.

Masaccio. The Trinity (1427). Fresco.

A hole in the wall

A “hole in the wall”

The barrel vaulted ceiling is incredible in its complex, mathematical use of perspective.

These lines eventually

meet at a distance point

on the horizon line.

Paolo uccello playful measurement

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

Perspective in Wood

  • trompe l’oeil wood inlay panels

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

Perspective in wood1

Perspective in Wood

Perspective eye levels

Perspective: Eye Levels

Normal viewpoint

Normal Viewpoint


Paolo Uccello. The Hunt in the Forest (1460s). Oil on canvas.

High viewpoint

High Viewpoint

Low viewpoint

Low Viewpoint


Bramantino. Adoration of the Kings (1498). Oil on panel.

Piero della francesca divine measurement

Piero della Francesca: Divine Measurement

Piero dell Francesca. The Flagellation (1460). Tempera on wood.

Piero della francesca divine measurement1

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

Andrea Mantegna: Eyewitness Art

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

Andrea Mantegna. From The Painted

Room (1465-74). Fresco.

Andrea mantegna eyewitness art1

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

Andrea Mantegna. Lamentation Over the

Dead Christ (1480). Distemper on canvas.

Perspective foreshortening

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

The Last Supper (1497). Fresco.

Leonardo da vinci s explorations1

Leonardo da Vinci’s Explorations

The Last Supper (1497). Fresco.

Leonardo da vinci s explorations2

Leonardo da Vinci’s Explorations

The Last Supper (1497). Fresco.

Leonardo da vinci s explorations3

Leonardo da Vinci’s Explorations

  • To seem like an extension of the refectory,

  • the vanishing point—which is on Christ’s right

  • eye—should be lower, at the spectator’s level.

  • Instead, it is about 15 feet above the floor

  • level.

  • The strong pull of the perspective, however,

  • “lifts” the viewer from the floor to the correct

  • viewpoint—a strangely spiritual phenomenon.

Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan

Aerial perspective

Aerial Perspective

Leonardo da Vinci

Aerial perspective1

Aerial Perspective

Leonardo da Vinci. The Virgin of the

Rocks (1508). Oil on wood.

Atmospheric 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 d rer

Albrecht Dürer

Perspective, Human Anatomy, and Proportions

Albrecht d rer1

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.

Melancholia (1514). Copper engraving.

D rer s perspective aid

Dürer’s Perspective Aid

  • frame consisted of wooden


  • grid threads probably made of


The Draftsman’s Net

D rer s perspective aid1

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

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

First Anamorph

Erhard Schon. Vexierbild or Puzzle Picture (1535)

When this fantastic landscape (on the left) is viewed at a low angle from the left four portraits emerge of Charles V, Ferdinand I Pope Paul III and Francis I (shown at the right).

Anamorphic art1

Anamorphic Art

Hans Hoblein, the Younger. The Ambassadors

(1533). Oil on wood.

Anamorphic art2

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

Drawing the Distorted Grid

  • A square grid is placed over a

  • scale drawing.

  • The artist then draws a distorted

  • grid onto which the design is

  • transferred—a side view in which

  • the proportions are drastically

  • altered but the points of the grid

  • fall on the same place of the

  • design.

Anamorphic art3

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.

William Scrots. Portrait of Edward

VI (1546). Oil on wood.

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