Perspective In Art

by bryantjaquez on January 2, 2013

everything you need to know about perspective in art


What is Perspective?

perspective is one of the most important aspects of a paintingPerspective is one of the most important concepts in art. It is by implementing the laws of perspective that we are able to create convincing three dimensional images to create the illusion of reality. The concept of perspective was first introduced in the 1400’s by the Italian artist and architect Filippo Brunelleschi. This artist was the first to create an accurate depiction of how the viewer might see a three dimensional image on a flat two dimensional surface. As we can imagine the discovery of this concept was revolutionary for the art world and was one of the major contributing factors to the changes in howrealistic art was depicted during the Renaissance.


Some of the most famous artworks to show how perspective could be used are exhibited in the bronze panels on the Gates of Paradise by Lorenzo Ghiberti – 1425-1452. These famous doors were created for the Baptistery Of Florence, Florence, Italy and are one of the most viewed art attractions in Florence. The examples of the bronze doors above, clearly shows the basic principles of perspective, with a vanishing point (center), orthogonal lines (floor tiles and roof top), an ellipse (circular roof lines), and also includes the laws of proportion where objects appear larger the closer they are to the viewer..

The Ellipse – A Circle seen in Perspective

the perspective of an ellipseSo what has an ellipse got to do with art? First off we need to understand what an ellipse is. The word ellipse comes from the ancient Greek word elleipsis and means ‘falling short’ and the concept is also tied to mathematics. Let us look at how this concept is tied to art. Let’s think about a circle, this is a basic shape yes, but in art we don’t just paint a circle, that shape is usually a part of something else, like the top of a bottle, the bottom of a glass, the top of a teacup, edge of a saucer etc.



the perspective of an ellipseHow we describe this circle when we paint it will tell the viewer something about the perspective or where the artist was standing when they created the painting. This theory ties in with the concept of depth perception or creating dimension within a painting. The canvas or picture plane is a flat surface; if we want to create the illusion of three dimensions or depth we must understand these basic principals of art.

The Ellipse is actually the circle seen from an angle and that angle has everything to do with the height of our eye level and where we (the viewer) are positioned. If we stand and look out at the horizon, we see it as a straight line ‘before’ our eyes. That is eye level – everything viewed this way, including a circle will look different than if we view the same object below eye level or above eye level. Imagine you were the height of a small cat. You would walk around the house looking up at almost everything – it would all be above your eye level. If you were a giraffe you would be looking down at many things, all of which would be below your eye level.

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Looking For The Ellipse In A Still Life.

how to create perspective in a still paintingSo what has an ellipse got to do with art? Now that we understand what an ellipse is, let’s look for them in a still life painting from an Old Dutch Master, Willem Claesz.

Look closely to see the ellipses in this still life painting above. These are all circles seen in perspective. When we view the circle from certain angles, such as this one, we see the circle as an ellipse.

Where are the ellipses? – look closely, they are in the dishes, top of the drinking glasses and the metal cup. An ellipse can also be seen in the level of the liquid in the glass containers

The Ellipse is a circle seen in perspective: The circle that the artist sees at the top of a container is a foreshortened version because of our point of view (Perspective – look at the examples from bottom to the top)

How we describe these circles (ellipses) when we paint them will tell the viewer something about the perspective or where the artist was standing when they created the painting.

Observe how the width or diamater of the circle never changes, what changes is the tilt or distance between the front edge and the rear edge.

This theory ties in with the concept of depth perception or creating dimension within a painting. The canvas or picture plane is a flat surface; if we want to create the illusion of three dimensions or depth we must understand these basic principles of art.

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The Vanishing Point And Orthogonal Lines.

Perspective is a method we employ to describe depth. In all three dimensional compositions, the artist will utilize different effects and techniques to help them create a realistic rendition of depth. When first learning about perspective we hear the term – the vanishing point. This is a term that describes the point at which parallel lines called orthogonal linesconverge and meet within a scene.

In the photographic examples below, look at the lines of perspective and how they all converge at the same central point. Where they converge or meet is called the vanishing point. When we drive down an open highway and the highway seems to disappear into the distance on the horizon, the point at which it vanishes is called the ‘vanishing point’ and they meet on the horizon.

The ‘Orthogonal’ Lines converge at the vanishing point.Vanishing points are all around us, we see them when we are driving down the highway, around our neighborhood streets, on a tree lined road, etc. Here is another example below. Perspective is a complex and large subject and the artist must have an understanding of the concept in order to help create depth and dimension within the painting. The parallel lines referred to (which converge at the vanishing point) are called orthogonal lines.

If the artist were to describe the perspective of the image above, they would say that they can see the vanishing point at the end of the street. They can also see many imaginary orthogonal lines as they run parallel to the sidewalk, along the edge of the balconies, along the roof lines of the buildings and all converge at the same vanishing point. They would also say this photograph shows mostly One Point Perspective. One Vanishing Point.

Where is the vanishing point in this image? Is it off the picture plane to the right or left? At times artists will create paintings where the vanishing point is off the canvas surface.

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Perspective And Nature – Flowers.

One of the most important considerations for the floral painter to understand that perspective affects flowers and how we view them.All flower petals grow from one central point at the base of the flower. This is where the flower head is connected to the stem that supports it.
As we view flowers from different perspectives, we realize that the center point of the flower changes to match that new perspective.Look at this image to see the way the angle has changed and the center point has changed with it.
A new angle of perspective shows the center point very clearly, and we can see the actual connection between each petal and the center.If the artist makes the connectionto the center for each petal different, the flower’s shape will look distorted. Studying the actual mechanics of a flower will help the artist who wishes to paint any type of flower.
There are times when the center point is not obvious, it may be hidden by a petal, for example here at left. This is quite common, especially with very complex, multi petalled flowers such as the rose, peony, or chrasanthumum.
A profile view of a flower shows the exact center point for the petals to connect to. Note the way each one of the petals will merge towards this central point.

One Point Perspective – Landscape?

One point perspective is once again demonstrated in this photograph of a typical farm scene.This is a common point of view when a scene is viewed from straight ahead. You can see exactly where the photographer was standing to take the photograph.
The two sides of this serving tray seem to be closer together at the back of the tray. Yet we understand that this tray is a rectangle and the sides parallel each other. It is the perspective from which it is viewed that creates this illusion.
The artist looks at the object to see how it relates to the horizon. What basic form does this building have? It is a cube. In this image, the building (cube) is viewed from straight on. The perspective is from one point of view and there is only one vanishing point. Can you see it?Read the clue below…Clue – look at the brick pathway leading to the front entrance of the house. Would the parallel lines at the edge of the walkway connect at some point in the distance IF you could see through the house? – Answer – Yes


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