The explorations, discoveries, and realizations of visual reality made by artists hundreds of years ago greatly influenced our current understanding of linear perspective. For example, in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, Giotto di Bondone, a painter and architect from Florence, Italy, made significant changes in how space could be “constructed” on a flat surface. In so doing, his work came to stand apart from that of other artists.
Among the techniques devised by di Bondone was the use of light and shadow, foreshortening, and diminishing size to create an illusion of depth. (Each of these techniques will be described in greater detail later in this unit.) In the world of Western art, the period from approximately the early fifteenth to the late sixteenth century was known as the Renaissance.
The Renaissance originated in two geographic regions, one in what’s presently known as Belgium and the Netherlands, and the other in northern and central Italy. The artists of the Renaissance were stimulated by a new passion for and understanding of the natural world. As a result, they became focused on finding methods of depicting three-dimensional reality on two-dimensional surfaces.
During this time, the Italian artist Filippo Brunelleschi was making remarkable contributions to architecture. In his work, Brunelleschi placed an increased emphasis on the viewer’s gaze. This enabled him to develop a system for rendering three-dimensional space.
For example, it’s believed that Brunelleschi was the first to recognize the all-important vanishing point described earlier in this unit. He’s also credited with determining the laws of linear perspective. In time, Brunelleschi’s work became a source of inspiration for many artists.
One such artist was an Italian by the name of Masaccio. Masaccio incorporated the findings of Brunelleschi with his understanding of depth and perspective. His work combined the use of linear perspective with other techniques that helped create a sense of space and volume. Among these additional techniques were the use of:
● ● Light and shadow
● ● Reflective lighting
● ● Highlights
● ● Circles in perspective
● ● Parallel receding lines
An intense interest in depicting the visual distortion of forms as they receded in space soon arose among certain artists. As a result of this interest, Leon Battista Alberti developed a device known as a veil.
This was a transparent grid of string-bound upon a frame that helped the artist draw what he or she saw in real life onto a flat surface. The artist would observe the grid lines of the veil superimposed over his or her model and use these lines as reference points, drawing the shapes, lines, and curves within each section of the grid onto drawing paper. Alberti’s veil is depicted most famously in a sixteenth-century woodcut print by the artist Albrecht Durer (Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
A fifteenth-century painter from the Netherlands by the name of Jan Van Eyck is remembered today for the ability he displayed to observe specific environmental details. This attention to detail, coupled with his ability to show three-dimensional space in two dimensions, his precise modelling, and his skilful rendering of light, shadow, texture, and subtle colour make his work extremely noteworthy.
By the late fifteenth century, linear perspective had become a predominant concern with many painters. Leonardo da Vinci considered close examinations of nature fundamental to universal knowledge.
Da Vinci’s work embodies his deep understanding of the visible changes that occur as forms recede in space. Raffaello Sanzio, also known as Raphael, was a very skilled draftsman and painter. One example of Raphael’s technical expertise, The School of Athens, is one of the most convincing and seemingly natural depictions of space using one-point perspective to emerge from the Renaissance (Art Context and Criticism).
The German artist Albrecht Durer, mentioned earlier in this unit, is an important figure to include in any discussion of Renaissance artists. Durer was a painter and printmaker of extraordinary technical skills. His work incorporated extensive detail, subtle transitions of tone and value—from deep black to the lightest greys—and a consummate understanding of the concepts necessary to represent three-dimensional forms and environments in two dimensions.
The preceding section serves as a brief introduction to the Renaissance artists who so greatly influenced our understanding of perspective. We encourage you to research this period further through the resources listed at the beginning of this unit. Besides, you may find it both helpful and enriching to:
1- Explore the art history section of your local library
2- Visit an art museum
3- Research the works of individual artists on the Internet