perspective

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

perspective

perspective, in art, any method employed to represent three-dimensional space on a flat surface or in relief sculpture. Although many periods in art showed some progressive diminution of objects seen in depth, linear perspective, in the modern sense, was probably first formulated in 15th-century Florence by the architects Brunelleschi and Alberti. Brunelleschi designed (c.1420) two panels depicting architectural views of Florence, in which he constructed a mathematically proportioned system of perspective. Alberti, in his De pittura (1435), harnessed the technique of perspective to the theory that painting is an imitation of reality. He viewed the picture plane as a window through which one looks at the visible world. Objects in the picture were to be systematically foreshortened as they receded into the distance. Orthogonal lines converged to a single vanishing point, which was to correspond to the fixed viewpoint of the spectator. Reflecting the growth of humanism, the spectator played a new role in art, as man was to determine the measurement of all things. The Italian artists who experimented with perspective, including Donatello, Masaccio, Uccello, and Piero della Francesca, sometimes diverged from the rules for a greater artistic effect. In general, however, the 15th-century Italian artists tended to work within a geometrical system, whereas the contemporary Flemish painters used more empirical means to achieve a convincing delineation of space. The technique of linear perspective had an immense influence on the development of Western art. In the 20th cent., however, its use has considerably declined, since many artists have rebelled against the conception of art as a mirror image of reality. Aerial or atmospheric perspective was developed primarily by Leonardo da Vinci. In general, it is based on the perception that contrasts of color and of light and dark appear greater, and contours more defined, in near objects than in far. Aerial perspective takes note of the recessive character of cool colors and the prominence of warm colors. In East Asian art, perspective effects were achieved by the atmospheric method, often incorporating zones of mist to separate near and far space.

See R. V. Cole, Perspective for Artists (1976); J. Cody, Atlas of Foreshortening (1984); M. Kubovy, The Psychology of Perspective and Renaissance Art (1988).

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