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Beata Bigaj - Zwonek Linear Perspective - from Space Illusions to Optical Delusions

Source of Image:

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

Beata Bigaj-Zwonek

Linear Perspective - from Space Illusions to Optical Delusions Abstract:

If Agatharchus

from Samos, a Greek painter from V century B.C., had looked at the

rendering effect in computer graphics program of 3D type, perhaps he would have exclaimed – after all it's an image built on the very same principles that I use to build illusion in the theatrical sets! Do we realize that knowledge of linear perspective exists at least for 26 centuries and actually has not changed since ancient times?

Painter, graphic artist, academic teacher (Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski Krakow University and Academy Ignatianum in Cracow) Graduated from the Faculty of Graphic Arts of the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow (diploma in Lithography Workshop in 1997). In 2005 she got a doctoral degree in fine arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow, in 2012 a doctoral degree in fine arts. Doctor is a member of the artistic associations "The Kontrapost" and The Focus-Europa (Germany). A scholar of "The Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation" (1994), winner of the scholarship "The Young Poland" of the Minister of Culture and the National Heritage (2008).

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

Linear perspective – in other words convergent, geometric, renaissance, decreasing - is a method of building a three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional surface, based on the vanishing points to which all lines perpendicular to the eye of the beholder are aiming. Parallel lines in this perspective stay parallel to each other1. Vanishing points are located on the horizon line, the position of which changes due to the altitude, from which the viewer observes a given space. The closer to the horizon line, the less distance between the objects is.


Nowadays, it happens that the images based on this kind of perspective are drawn "almost completely" by a graphics program. Sometimes they are based on photography shot. However, like centuries ago, students of design and art schools gain knowledge of linear perspective based mainly on the experience carried over from the direct observation of reality, without additional technical support. Moreover, to draw an object in this perspective, and especially a group of objects, is not an easy task. The issue of drawing without modern "facilitators" seems intriguing at least for two reasons. Firstly, artists have been creating methods (and even mechanical tools) for imaging in perspective since the Renaissance. Many times successfully. Secondly, already in the XIX century the absolute power of perspective was questioned, recognizing that it is only one of ways to build an image. So maybe the knowledge of perspective is not indispensable in art and design? 1

Exception is three-point perspective. In this case the third vanishing point is located below or above the horizon line and the parallel lines are approaching it - as a result they stop being parallel to each other.. 2

Giacomo da Vignola, Perspective diagram, 1583, line art , Biblioteca, Bologna, [z:]

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

Still I think it is. Even to those who avoid perspective foreshortenings in imaging. Because there is a difference between conscious avoiding and avoiding out of ignorance. Therefore, linear perspective still is a chore for future artists and a challenge for mature artists who are aware that, to reign over the perspective, one must have a practical knowledge of the principles of its construction and the differences between observation of 3-dimensione and reflection of it on paper. And - that besides being a tool for creating the illusion - linear perspective is also an element constructing the form of the artwork, which one can apply in different ways and to different degrees, thus building thanks to it the very own original language of artistic expression.

The history of knowledge of perspective - an overview We know about mentioned Agatharchus, inter alia, from the The ten books on architecture by Vitruvius. The author mentions in it the artist living centuries ago: "At first, at the time when Aeschylus presented tragedies, Agatharchus built in Athens a scene and left the thesis on it"3. In the following part of the text Vitruvius not only highlights the artist's skills in translating knowledge about the vision to the illusion on the surface, but also briefly describes the perspective itself, mentioning at the same time its pioneering theorists. "Encouraged by this, Democritus and Anaxagoras wrote on the same subject, explaining how to draw the lines corresponding in the natural way to eyes and propagation of rays from the specified center point, so that images of buildings shown on the stage scenery captured the nature of a certain thing, and that all paintings on vertical and flat walls seemed concave or convex"4. In addition to the text of Vitruvius, we also have other sources of evidence that the perspective was not alien to the ancient Greeks. Various texts from the era (also later ones, but relating to Greek art) contain information on the ancient Greek imaging being illusory, and that it was illusion that brought credit to the creators. Proof of this can be texts of Pliny, 3

Vitruvius, The ten books on architecture. The seventh book, Warsaw 2004, p. 167



CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

with their admiration for the mastery of Greek artists in expressing nature. It seems that this illusion had to have support in perspective, as can be evidenced by the passage from The Natural History about Apelles: "he painted also Alexander the Great with lightning in his hand [...] the fingers seem to protrude from the picture, and even lightning is as if outside of the picture" 5. Philosophy also should be mentioned here - for example, Plato and his criticism of illusive painting... The paintings from this period have not survived, however, and we can only presume on the basis of knowledge about the admiration of the Romans for Greek art, that perhaps they resembled those found in Pompeii and Herculaneum. In the Middle Ages, the knowledge of linear perspective (or more precisely - of illusional Roman imaging) lost practical dimension in art, largely due to changes in philosophy, particularly that associated with religion (it is worth mentioning here the iconoclast conflict) and as a result of social and economic difficulties. Although, the subject of perspectiva was taught at school, but as a part of the geometry, where it was associated with the science of optics (vision, image reflections in different surfaces, propagation of light), and sometimes with the determination of the distance between objects. However, in the arts the science of linear perspective, used in the painting practice, became the knowledge of chosen ones. It was not required from creators, because it did not suit the idea according to which we should strive to reality perfect in the spirit, not to the miserable earthly one. The return to linear perspective, or rather its development, because its rules were created anew, was already in the early Renaissance. Changes in the perception of the world, nature and human, characteristic of the nascent era resulted in a return to the faithful recreation of space in the surface. How quickly “arrears” were overtaken can be seen in the numerous treatises on painting and proportion, and actually perspective. Its significance and 5

Piliny the Older, The natural history [in:] Thinkers, chroniclers and artists about art. From antiquity to, ed. by J. Białostocki, Warsaw 1988, p. 151

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

achievements of the Renaissance in the methods of its construction resulted in the later adoption of the term Renaissance perspective to determine the creation of reality using vanishing points. Comparing Giotto from the XIII/XIV century and Masaccio who was creating a hundred years later, one can see how great was the way passed in imaging-based perspective. Let's look at the frescoes of the basilica in Assisi, depicting the life of St. Francis by Giotto Di Bondone. In dozens of icons painted in the church, architecture is a numerous and significant element. The buildings, in the context of perspective, are constructed here (nearly?, even) almost good. It was as if a painter sensed its principles, but applied them inconsistently. Or even as if he did not yet have such knowledge to make the effect of "threedimension on the plane" satisfactory. Lines leading into the depths are striving thus almost towards one vanishing point. Almost, because in reality - analyzing the constructions of perspective in Giotto’s works – one can point out many places of diverging of the rays that build the image of objects in perspective. But at the same time, it is clear that the overall trend of the axle perspective heads towards one, proper vanishing point.



Giotto di Bondone, Legend of St. Francis 8: the vision of the flaming chariot, fragment, 1297-99, fresco, 270 x 230 cm, Basillica in Assis, [from:]

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

Several creators are deemed the fathers of Renaissance perspective; however, the precedence in terms of its practical application in the image is given to the artist called Masaccio, the author of Holy Trinity - the artwork located in the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. This fresco, in the iconographic type of "throne of grace", shows in the first place a group of people gathered around the cross, located in the Renaissance architectural space closed at the top by paneled vaulted ceiling. Both architecture and figures are located with the use of linear perspective to a common vanishing point – the frontal one. Vanishing point is quite low; its location is probably close to the height from which the viewer of the fresco is observing the scene.


Vasari provides that Masaccio was constructing perspective in his artworks based on the knowledge imparted to him by Brunelleschi, whose knowledge of perspective aroused admiration already among his contemporaries. It is Filippo Brunelleschi who was usually mentioned as the one who brought perspective to art. Inspired by the mathematical


Masaccio, Holy Trinity, 1425-28, fresco, 640 x 317 cm, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, [from:]

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

knowledge of his friend Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, the artist led optical experiments that have contributed to the development of space imaging principles based on geometry. In the result, they allowed the representation of nature in the surface according to perception. Some of these experiments concerned the determination of the point of view and in practice meant an appropriate positioning and reading of images prepared specially by the artist. Biographer Antonio di Tuccio Manetti represents one of the images along with the «hardware» as follows: "The first demonstration of the principles of perspective was a plate of about half a square cubit, where [Brunelleschi] painted a picture of the exterior of the church of Santo Giovanni in Florence. He painted as much of the temple, as can be caught by a glance, looking from the outside from the side [...] he made a hole in the picture in the place where he painted the church of Santo Giovanni, at the point where one’s glance reach, when looking from the inside of the central portal of Santa Maria del Fiore. [...] This hole from the side of the image was tiny as a grain of lentil; from the back, however, it expanded in the form of a pyramid [...]. [Brunelleschi] wished for whoever wanted to view the picture, to put the image to the eye, bringing it closer with one hand, while holding a flat mirror in front of him to reflect a painting [...] so that watching it in these conditions [...] one had the impression that he is observing a reality " 8. Knowledge of Brunelleschi’s skills in the field of building of an image with proper perspective can be drawn primarily from biographical descriptions. The principles of construction of such an image were written down later by, among others, another excellent creator Alberti in his treatise De pittura, 1435. In addition to comments about the painting, including the perspective, this text also contains instructions for painters and already in the introduction mentions the necessity of possession of the considerable knowledge by them. "But I'd like the painter to be, above all, a good and educated man, so that he could maintain his fame with dignity - wrote Alberti - I wish the painter had as far as possible training in all the liberal arts, but primarily in geometry. I agree with Pamfilus, an excellent painter of antiquity - who educated many young noble men in the art of painting – 8

Antonio di Tuccio Manetti, The life of Brunelleschi [in:] Thinkers, chroniclers and artists about art. From antiquity to 1500, ed. by J. Białostocki, Warsaw 1988, p. 527

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

in his opinion, one who does not know geometry, cannot become a good painter in the future"9. Art historians emphasize in the context of Alberti treaties that perspective - almost mathematically described by him - not only facilitated creation of a realistic picture, but also was proof that art has the characteristics of science, and as such, it could be a match for always-appreciated geometry or arithmetic. Interestingly, Alberti's treatise was not illustrated, but in later centuries, in successive editions, paintings were added to explain perspective. Alberti's treatise was followed by other texts of famous artists, often, however, already illustrated, also by outstanding artists (eg. Piero della Francesca wrote - and illustrated - De Prospectiva Pingendi between 1474 and 1480 years. And between 1496 and 1498 the publication of Luca Pacioli - De divina proportione – was supported in drawings by figures in perspective by Leonardo da Vinci himself).

10 11


Leon Battista Alberti, On painting [in:] ibidem, p. 388


Piero della Francesca, De Prospectiva Pingendi, print from 1576, Biblioteca Palatina, Parma 11

De divina proportione ,iluminated manuscript from 1498,

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The interest in perspective was growing, and so was tendency of artists to fascinate audience with possibilities of its application. Significant in this context is the statement of Uccello (written down by Vasari), addressed to the wife who was encouraging the artist to postpone the creative work and go to bed: "oh, what a sweet thing is this perspective"12. Perspective is visible in virtually all of Ucello’s pictures. They are populated by figures of people and animals drawn precisely with respect to the vanishing point. Uccello is also the author of extraordinary drawings showing the mesh of objects, such as the following picture.


As time passed, however, knowledge of perspective has become so obvious that it has ceased to be the main subject of imaging, and became only (even?) one of the building blocks of three-dimensional space. The obviousness of combining linear perspective with other discoveries - even in the field of color - can be seen in the expression of Leonardo, who, in addition to linear perspective, mentions two more ones that are important for imaging: "There are three kinds of perspective. The first is related to the causes of [apparent] decrease of the opaque bodies depending on their distance from the eye, and is known as the linear perspective. The second concerns the way in which colors change depending on the distance from the eye. The third and final one addresses the matter of how the contours of


Cit. from: J. Białostocki, Sztuka cenniejsza niż złoto (Art. Is more precious than gold), Warsaw 1991, p.289


Paolo Uccello, ink, 1430, 290 x 241 mm, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, [from:] Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence,

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

objects [in the picture] should be less clear, in proportion to the distance between them [in the picture]"14.

Methods and tools assisting the creation of the illusion of space The fact that proper application of the principles of perspective in the image has become a condition for its correctness does not mean that building the world in perspective has become easier. No surprise then that already in the beginning of the Renaissance helping methods in its drawing were sought. Alberti in Treatise on painting mentioned a supporting method related to velum: "there is no more suitable method than applying velum, which I call the intersection among friends [...] It is as follows: loosely woven curtain made of thinnest possible thread, of any color, divided by thicker threads to parallel parts and divided into squares, I stretch on frames and place between the subject that I am going to present, and eyes, so that pyramid of view was penetrating loose fabric. This intersection, thanks to velum, gives considerable advantages: first, it always provides the same surfaces motionless; having the boundaries marked, you always find the original top of the pyramid, which is a very difficult thing with no intersection.15�


Leonardo da Vinci, Sketches and notes, ed. H. Anna Suh, UK 2006, p. 92


Leon Battista Alberti, About painting [in:] Thinkers, chroniclers and artists about art. From antiquity to, ed. by J. Białostocki, Warsaw 1988, p. 375

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

The device described by Alberti could have presented itself as below:


Similarly - a few decades later, Leonardo da Vinci provides descriptions of the methods / equipment similar to that described above. There he highlights that the whole scene is observed from a fixed point (in the first following description this is served by the wax ball, in the second – by a "stabilizer" of the head). Furthermore, he recommends observing a view with one eye: "If you want to learn how to properly and correctly adjust your figures, place between your eye and the drawn nude a rectangle, that is the frame divided by threads into squares, and draw lightly the same squares on the paper where you intend to draw the mentioned nude. Then place a wax ball in the place of grid that serves you for a fixed point, looking though which at the nude you always find fossa supraclavicularis [...]. And those threads will define to you all the parts of the body in every position, located [perpendicularly] under fossa supraclavicularis [...] But always keep the mesh in the perpendicular line and act so that all the nude parties seen by you matched to the grid squares were reproduced in the appropriate boxes in a painted mesh"17. 16

A picture from Johann II of Bavaria and Hieronymus Rodler, Ein schön nützlich büchlein und unterweisung der Kunst des Messens (1531), [from:] William C. Wees, Light Moving in Time: Studies in the Visual Aesthetics of Avant-Garde Film, University of California Press, Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford 1992, {after:];;doc.view=print

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X


“The way to take the proper position. Take a glass pane of the royal semi-folio’ size and strengthen it well in front of your eyes, i.e. between the eye and the thing, which image you want to get. Then move away with the eye from mentioned pane for two-thirds of the arm and fix the head in the appropriate tool so that it could not move. After that shut or cover one eye and mark on the glass with brush or hematite stone what is on the other side, trace it on the good card, and then paint it, if you want, making a good use of air perspective”19. It is worth noting that the second method described by Leonardo gave another benefit thanks to it, the artist obtained the traced image at the card, which did not have any supporting lines, like mesh, so it looked as if the artist sketched the difficult views by a steady hand with no support. These methods don’t seem to be difficult to use, but probably did not give the precise results, hence perhaps another idea appeared - by Durer - related to threads leading from the observer's eye to the points of the drawn objects. The device looked like this:


Leonardo da Vinci, Traktat o malarstwie [w:] Myśliciele, kronikarze i artyści o sztuce. Od starożytności do 1500, red. J. Białostocki, Warszawa 1988, str. 563 18

The picture by Leonardo (fragment) – of a suport device for perspective, [from:] 19

Leonardo da Vinci, Modo de ritrare un sieve Loretto [in:] Mieczyslaw Porębski, Iconosphere, ch. Picture as a window painting, Warsaw, 1972, p. 174

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X


As you can see, two people operated it.21 The apparatus consisted of a wooden frame, in which two threads were attached - in the middle of the upper part and in the middle of one of the vertical sides (threads had to have at least a length corresponding to the height / width of the frame, and hang freely). The door was attached to the frame. The next element of the device was a thread passing through the hook a’la the eye of a needle, nailed to the wall (in such a way that the thread could move freely in the catch. To fix the thread in the hole, it was laden with the additional weight). The thread was pulled through the frame and ended with the pin to facilitate its grip. The artist assistant had to move the end of the thread with the bolt and place it at different points of the observed object (according to Durer’s illustration the lute). After tensioning, the thread stopped on different levels inside the frame. At this moment, the artist had to grip the threads respectively, this time the ones attached to the frame, so that they mark the position of the thread running from the wall. Then he connected both threads of the frame with wax and ordered the assistant to loosen tensioning of the main thread, shut the door and mark on it the point of intersection of the threads from the frame. In this way, putting the main thread to the relevant fragments of the observed object, one could get its outline. It should also be mentioned, that the point of settlement of the thread on the wall corresponds to the place from which the object was “observed”. As you can see from the description and the fact of necessity to work at least for two persons, the idea of 20

Albrecht Durer, Drawn lutes, 1525, woodcut, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, [with:] 21

Description by text Albrecht Durer: The Letter of measuring with calipers and the line, in 1525 [in] theorists, writers and artists on art from 1500 to 1600, ed. J. Białystok, Warsaw 1985, p. 64-65

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

Durer may have been good, but it is associated with arduous work and is rather inadvisable when drawing the large quantities or complex objects. Therefore, there is no wonder that, when someone apparently unexpectedly observed the phenomenon of the focused sunlight passing through the hole in the wall of a darkened room in such a way, that the image of view stretching in front of him appeared on the opposite wall of the room, only reversed, he picked it up making the device called the camera obscura. Who was the first? Probably the ancients have already used a camera obscura. In contrast, perhaps the most famous early description of the phenomenon (and in some sense the device) was left by Leonardo in the Codex Atlanticus. He wrote in it: "If the facade of a building, or a landscape is illuminated by the sun, and there is a hole in the darkened wall located opposite the building, then the illuminated objects will send through the hole their image and the image will be reversed."22 In time, someone began to adapt the camera method to the work of artist - in the boxes with a hole it was mounted the mirror inverting the image and transferring it to the paper used for sketching landscapes.



Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus, [after:] Zbigniew Tomaszczuk, The Hunter of Images; sketches about the history of photography, Warsaw, 1998 23

Illustration from: A. Ganot, Traité élémentaire de physique (Paris, 1855), [from:]

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

In 1807, William Hyde Wollaston (the British chemist) has invented a drawing tool called the camera lucida. The artist looked in the sight glass and, not taking his eyes off, he drew the object on a piece of paper.


There were also invented other devices allowing support to the work of an artist, as presented below:


How often, actually, were these devices used? According to the great English artist David Hockney, the author of Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the 24

Illustration from Scientific America Supplement, January 11, 1879 [from:], http: //


Carl Augustus Schmalcalder Profile Machine, 1806 {from:] Pablo Garcia, Machine Drawing Drawing Machines, [from:]

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Old Masters, even the artists that were never "suspected” of that, could draw / paint projecting the models through the "projectors" of those times. And that was a universal "practice". However, as Hockney stated in his book, such practice does not reduce the artists’ talent, but indicates their wisdom. Why should not one use the supporting techniques (ac. to Hockney- quite hard in practice), if the optics was undergoing boom in the science of that times? Moreover, the use of these methods and devices at times could be based on the need to support the drawing from the point of view of similarity or perspective, but from the need to achieve the effect of a specific expression, which is difficult to obtain some other way (eg. use of the "strength" of the precise detail). Hockney, based on his own practical experience and the knowledge acquired from the reputable researchers, says that since the 30's of the XV century the artists used the technical support, especially the (concave) mirrors and lenses.26 The Hockney’s researches, combined with a practical demonstration of making of the images, based on the projective methods, seem to convince about the rightness, at least of the part of his theses. However, we do not have the direct evidences (in the sense of confirmation by the artists of the times). In the texts of the masters and their biographies, there is lack of the information about the support of the creative work by the optical discoveries... From the linear perspective to the bizarre perspective As it was already mentioned, the knowledge of perspective increased with time. The successive artists made the increasingly difficult perspective systems. Yet the "first in terms of the perspective" picture –Masaccio's St. Trinity – does not only point to the skills of building the space in the image by the constructor and painter, but it also impresses with the concern for the viewer to be able to see this space as if it actually appeared in front of his eyes - in this aim locating the vanishing point sufficiently low, respectively to the level of the recipient. These types of treatments have been also used by others; Mantegna was one of the most "zealous" ones in using this method. In the frescoes attributed to him, which remained in the Church of the Eremitani in Padua (largely destroyed by bombing in 1944) the junction


[cf:] David Hockney, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, Krakow 2006

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

points are almost always close to the bottom edge of the plane. Mantegna is also the author of one of the best solutions of the "false", fantastically constructed in perspective sky. From the ceiling of the Camera degli Sposi (Camera picta) in the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua, the characters look at the audience located underneath - so beautifully portrayed in perspective that they seem to be real. For me personally, an unusual display of skill of the space construction on the surface is the fresco by mentioned earlier Uccello, showing a scene from the flood of Chiostro Verde at Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Such an artistry perspective can be already compared to the skills of mannerist, much later Tintoretto, known for bold solutions in the space making.



In both the Southern and Northern Renaissance, it began also to use a method, which encrypts the image through the mesh transformation - Anamorphosis. It also demanded a deep knowledge of optics. Leonardo tried the anamorphic drawing (the sketch of eyes), but perhaps the most famous image of the transformation of this type is The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the younger, with the anamorphic skull in the foreground. In Germany, after Durer, there was the woodcutter artist Erhard Schon, who used the anamorphoses to hide the political messages in his works. His most famous artwork of this type is The Three Kings and 27

Paolo Uccello, Flood And Waters Subsiding (detail), 1447-1448, fresco, Chiostro Verde, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, [with:] 28

Jacopo Tintoretto, Gathering of Manna, c. 1593, oil on canvas, 377 x 576 cm, San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice [from:]

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the Pope, 1535, where under the guise of landscape the rulers of those times are concealed. However, above all, anamorphosis was played with - hence the numerous remains of anamorphosis in portraits and idyllic landscapes. A great example of this is the portrait of Charles III, Duke of Lorraine, and his daughter Christina, by Ludovico Buti, 1593, where one can see alternatively (daughter or father) thanks to the flat mirror set at an angle. This anamorphosis exists thanks to the corresponding bending of the picture.29



The term anamorphosis arose with the XVII century’s publication by Jean-François Niceron “La perspective curieuse“ (Bizarre perspective). Not only the author showed in it how the anamorphic drawing mechanism has looked like, but also he included a number of other complex images of the perspective – of different, often very difficult objects. Likewise, the authorship of the difficult paintings belong to the architect Jan Vredeman De Vries. He used, among others, the method of three point perspective, already described in the text De Artificiali perspectiva, 1505 by the canon of the cathedral in Toul, Jean Pelerin of Le Viator (The Traveller), the secretary of King Louis XI. In Pelerin’s theory it has been pointed out for 29

James L. Hunt, John Sharp, The Mathematics of the Channel Anamorphosis


Lodovico Buti, Optical Illusion with Portraits of Charles II and His Daughter Christine of Lorraine 1593, Oil on prismatic panels, glass, 82 x 112 cm, the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza, Florence, [from:] 31

The Anamorphosis by Jean-François Niceron'a [from:] James L. Hunt, John Sharp, The Mathematics of the Channel Anamorphosis,

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the first time the importance of the perspective of the horizon line, as well as description of the perspective with centrally located point of confluence and two vanishing points from the two point perspective. Pelerin applied them as a solution to the problem of the perspective of the building, in which none of the walls were parallel to the horizon or did not coincide at a central point. "This idea - writes M. Josse Parramon – of “three points” in general was not known to artists, until the invention by the Italian theater directors of the scene per angolo two centuries later "32. The methods of “three points” should not be confused with worm's-eye view or a threepoint bird's-eye view, in which the parallel lines are no longer parallel. In the method according to Pelerin, two types of perspective are juxtaposed in a single image. Based on this method, Jan Vredeman De Vries’ paintings in turn inspired Rembrandt, who in 1632 painted a picture in which one of the most important elements are the spiral stairs...




Jose M. Parramon, How to draw in perspective, ch. Two - vanishing points and the line of the horizon, Lodz 2003, p. 26 33

Jan de Vries Vredeman – The illustration of 'Perspective', 1604-1605, [from:] 34

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, The philosopher during meditation, 1631, oil on canvas, 29 x 33 cm, Louvre, Paris, [from:]

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In subsequent eras, the artists amazed the audiences by skills. The challenge was to paint in such a way that the recipient had the impression that the character or object "was coming out" of the picture. They painted the "hard objects", such as balls breaking the image, or reflections in the mirrors. And so in 1524 the mannerist painter Parmigianino painted himself, as he was seen in the barbeshop mirror. Here's how Vasari describes the history of the picture: "He decided one day to paint a self-portrait, looking at himself in the barber’s mirror. And when he saw, what the uniqueness brings the roundness of the mirror, how the beam piquantly bends, and the doors and walls of the building make the strange grimace, he got the desire - just like on a whim – to paint it all. Thus, he ordered to prepare the wooden bowl on the mobile prop. He split the bowl into two halfs of the mirror’ size and reproduced on them what he saw in the mirror, and above all his own likeness, so correct that it was admirably hard to believe. Because all the objects seen closer in the mirror increased and the remote ones decreased, he portrayed his hand slightly enlarged, as showed in the mirror; he did it perfectly, so it looked like a real hand"35.



Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the most famous painters, sculptors and architects, Warsaw-Krakow 1986, p. 152-153


Parmigianino, Self-portrait in a convex mirror, approx. 1524, oil on panel, 24.4 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, [from:]

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

In the Baroque, illusion of space affected the churches. Their walls groan under the weight of the unreal images; the angels fly in the unreal heaven; the columns support the unreal ceiling. What else in the proficiency of actual imaging could be demonstrated? Can we believe our eyes? "Debunking" of the perspective – two dimension, three dimension, or maybe a fourth dimension? The Renaissance and post-Renaissance artists were aware of the opportunities offered by the linear perspective. The possibilities of deception of the human eye. The anamorphic presentation makes an evidence of knowledge of optics, but also confirms the interest in the optical illusions. With the knowledge of the "imperfections" of the human eye, a skillful artist could hide a lot of (unintentional) or conscious mistakes in a drawing based on the principles of perspective. On the other hand, also a recipient’ skillful approach, through image referring to the perspective rules, could disguise (consciously or not) the mistakes of the construction of plans and space. In 1754, William Hogarth created a picture of Satire on the false perspective placed on the cover of the booklet Dr. Brook Taylor's Method of Perspective Made Easy both in Theory and Practice. The brochure of a Hogarth’s friend, John Joshua Kirby, was a pamphlet on the linear perspective. The picture by Hogarth, very valid at first sight, has therefore a number of purposely-made mistakes. Such a treatment had to prove that the artist must be aware of the easiness of confusion in the field of drafting the perspective. The caption of the picture has the slogan: Who makes THE PROJECT without the knowledge of PERSPECTIVE will make such absurdities as those contained in the image on the cover.

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X


After years of the unappealing undeniable reign, in the XIX century they began, however, “to point out” the vanity of this illusion. Here Cezanne paints the pictures in which the edges of the table do not inosculate with each other. They do not inosculate, because the artist undermines the validity of the presentation of a set of the objects (nature mort in this case) from one point of view. Has the image making with taking into account the fact, that painting (ie, at the same time observing reality) we change the points of view - that is disagreement with the reality observed by one eye and, therefore, marking the one-sidedness of this perspective – become the discovery of not noticed? No - after all, from the beginning of describing perspective in the Renaissance it has been noted that the reality in it is created from the point of view of a stationary eye. In the already cited here device descriptions –methods - facilitators the idea scrolls that the Renaissance perspective involves vision of the nature from a single point. This purpose was served by the device for holding Leonardo’s head steady and his order to look 37

William Hogarth, Satire on false perspective, in 1754, [from:]

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

with one eye ("after that shut or cover one eye"); or the anchored by Durer threads on the wall ("Do therefore in such a way: if you are in the room stab into the wall a large pin with a large ear and accept that it is the eye"38). It was, however, considered that this is the convention, which is used to write and receipt the space on the surface, because it is compatible with the natural human vision. But the researchers of Cezanne in the XX century drew (among others) a lesson from his experience, that the perspective of the Renaissance cannot transmit the nature fully. Or otherwise - that three-dimension, according to this record, does not give the complete information about the world. And if not it, then maybe the “fourth dimension” should appear? The futurist Gino Severini in his article "Measuring space and the fourth dimension" wrote about the need for a deeper recording of the knowledge about the object: "The ordinary space, with which the geometrician deals, is based, generally speaking, on the inviolable convention of three dimensions. The painters, whose ambitions are endless, always felt the narrowness of this convention. This means that to the usual three dimensions they try to add the fourth, which summarizes them and which is expressed differently, but - so to speak - was the goal of the art of all ages"39. The "opposition" to the illusion of reality were the currents that were undermining imaging of the external reality in order to reach the reality of ideas. The creator of Suprematism, Kazimir Malevich, wrote: [The Art] is "able, creating a new reality beyond reason (...), to overcome the apparent contradictions of the world of three-dimensional logic and to combine the opposites in a higher unity"40.


Albrecht Durer, The Letter of measuring calipers and lines, 1525 [in:] The theorists, writers and artists on art from 1500 to 1600, ed. J. Białystok, Warsaw 1985, p. 64-65 39

Cit.: Artists on Art. From Van Gogh to Picasso, ed.: E. Grabska, H. Morawska, Warsaw, 1969, p. 166


Casimir Malevich [cit:] Andrzej Turowski, United utopian avant-garde. Artistic and social utopias in Russian art 1910-1930, Warsaw 1990, [after:] Przemyslaw Chodań, Suprematism Kazimir Malevich as an example of avant-garde utopia. [From:]

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

The voices of the discouraged from illusive presenting were so significant that the theorists and art historians began to accentuate its contractual imaging data formula. Thus, one of the well-known thinkers Herbert Read spoke: "the prospect theory developed in the XV century is a scientific convention, it is just one of the ways of describing the space and, therefore, it does not have the absolute value"41. Skepticism to illusion in the art has teamed up with the interest and discoveries in the field of optics and the optical illusion. In the 40th of the XX century the American ophthalmologist Adelbert Ames Jr. designed a space called today the Ames room; if one will look at it from a certain assumed in advance point, the size of figures will seem completely unbelievable.


The Ames room is based on a non-standard shape (the plan from above is below) and the necessity of looking at the image from one position:


Herbert Read [after:] Ernst Gombrich, Art and illusion. The psychology of pictorial presentation, Warsaw 1981, p.242 42

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X


Ames is also the author of the experiment with chairs – non-chairs ("through three visors, we look with one eye at the three items, located within a certain distance. All three look like chairs made of the steel pipes. When we look at them from another angle, we see that only one of the objects has a normal shape"44). And the experiment with a window (to those interested in it, as well as in other, similar ones, I recommend the film posted on the page of Professor Richard Gregory: How did these experiments hurt the "good name" of Renaissance perspective? As Gombrich writes: "Ames and his colleagues decided to [...] prove that "the perceptions do not reveal the reality�45.



Ernst Gombrich, Art and illusion. The psychology of pictorial presentation, Warsaw 1981, p. 243


ibidem, p. 244

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X


Thus, the XX-century artistic theories, cut-off from the perspective and the experiments indicating the easiness of deceiving the human eye, caused – it could be considered the same way as in the Middle Ages – the disturbance of faith in the infallibility of the linear principles of the space creating. Although, this time the process does not concern all the authors and recipients. And it proceeds with the consciousness of the freedom of choice. The fact that in the publication quoted above Gombrich defends the perspective ("The necessity of cooperation of the viewer for the correct interpretation of the perspective images [...] is not in any contradiction with the statement, that the perspective is a method useful in transmitting the images according to the nature and induction of illusion"47) does not mean that today the linear perspective is at stake. Firstly – as for Gombrich - when he wrote Art and illusion (first publication - 1960 year) the abstraction dominated in the contemporary imagery, and the figurative art was torpedoed by the allegations of illusion, falsehood, hypocrisy. Hence, perhaps, in the Gombrich works there is a feeling of the necessity to defend the perspective. However - secondly - today there is a lot of realism in art and even photorealism. And, probably, none of those who reach out for this form will undermine the validity of the linear perspective. Of course - we have to agree here with Gombrich, as for the rightness, where the images should be consistent with nature also [when] inducting illusion.


Ames experiment with chairs, [scan from:] Ibid, p. 243


Ibid, p. 245

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

………………………….. At the end In the case of the realistic imaging the perspective of the Renaissance is a fantastic support. It is also a chore to those, who learn it. It evokes the need to take into account the principles and methods that one should know in the theory and practice. It is also ruthless to the realistic image - if one commits a mistake somewhere in perspective (and does not know how to hide it by the tricks of "almost perspectives") – it will be blazing more than anything else. In painting, you can agree or not agree on the colors used, discuss the tools or techniques, but an error in the perspective in the realistic convention cannot be defended. Over the years, the technologies, paints, tools and media changed. We stopped creating frescoes in mass, we rarely paint on wood, more rarely on linen canvas. The traditional graphic techniques have been replaced by the digital prints. The eye of the painter sometimes is almost "replaced" by the camera... And yet ... the old perspective is still ongoing... And even using the most modern techniques to support the creation of the threedimension in the image, one has to know the rules of perspective. Indeed, as in the XVII century the French architect and art theorist Roland Fréart Chambray stated: "the painter tries to imitate things as he sees them; it is certain that if he sees them wrongly, he’ll present them according to his bad imagination and make a bad picture; so before he takes a pencil and brushes, he should improve his eye by reasoning, based on the principles of art, which teaches one how to not only see things just as they are, but also the way they should be presented. It would be sometimes a bad mistake to handle them as the eye can see although it seems a paradox"48.


Roland Fréart de Chambray, Idea of perfection of painting, 1662, [in:] The history of artistic doctrines, Volume III, selected and edited by J. Bialystocki, scientific editing and additions by Poprzęcka M., A. Ziemba, Warsaw 1994, p. 497

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

Bibliography: 1. Artyści o sztuce. Od van Gogha do Picassa, edit. by: E. Grabska, H. Morawska, PWN, Warsaw 1969 2. Jan Białostocki, Sztuka cenniejsza niż złoto, PWN, Warsaw 1991 3. Elena Capretti, Brunelleschi, from the series Klasycy sztuki, transl. by H. Borkowska, Rzeczypospolita, HPS, Warsaw 2006 4. Przemysław Chodań, Suprematyzm Kazimierza Malewicza jako przykład awangardowej utopii. [in:] 5. Pablo Garcia, Machine Drawing Drawing Machines, [in:] 6. Ernst Gombrich, Sztuka i złudzenie. O psychologii przedstawiania obrazowego, transl. by Jan Zarański, PIW, Warsaw 1981 7. Historia doktryn artystycznych, volume III, selected and edited by J. Białostocki, scientific editing an completing by M. Poprzęcka, A. Ziemba, PWN, Warsaw 1994 8. James L. Hunt, John Sharp, The Mathematics of the Channel Anamorphosis, 9. David Hockney, Wiedza tajemna. Sekrety technik malarskich Dawnych Mistrzów, transl. by J. Holzman, Universitas, Krakow 2006 10. Myśliciele, kronikarze i artyści o sztuce. Od starożytności do 1500, ed. by J. Białostocki, PWN, Warzaw, 1988 11. Leonardo da Vinci, Szkice i zapiski, ed. by H. Anna Suh, Parragon, transl. by B. Brózda, Books Ltd, UK 2006 12. Mieczysław Porębski, Ikonosfera, PIW, Warsaw, 1972 13. Jose M. Parramon, Jak rysować w perspektywie, Galaktyka, Lodz 2003 14. Teoretycy, pisarze i artyści o sztuce 1500 - 1600, ed. By J. Białostocki, PWN, Warsaw, 1985

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15. Zbigniew Tomaszczuk, Łowcy Obrazów; szkice z historii fotografii, Centre for Culture Animation, Warsaw 1998, [in:] 16. Vitruvius, O architekturze ksiąg dziesięć, transl. by K. Kumaniecki, Prószyński i S-ka SA, Warsaw 2004 17. William C. Wees, Light Moving in Time: Studies in the Visual Aesthetics of Avant-Garde Film, University of California Press, Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford 1992, {aftrer:];chunk .id=d0e997;doc.view=print

18. Giorgio Vasari, Żywoty najsławniejszych malarzy, rzeźbiarzy i architektów, edit. by K. Estreicher, PWN, Warsaw-Krakow 1986 19.

Linear Perspective – from Space Illusions to Optical Delusions / B. Bigaj-Zwonek CyberEmpathy: Visual Communication and New Media in Art, Science, Humanities, Design and Technology. ISSUE 9 2014/2015. Cyber Art. ISSN 2299-906X. Kokazone Marika Wato. Mode of access: Internet via World Wide Web:

CyberEmpathy - Visual and Media Studies Academic Journal ISSUE 9 2014/2015 Cyber Art ISSN 2299-906X

Linear Perspective - from Space Illusions to Optical Delusions  
Linear Perspective - from Space Illusions to Optical Delusions  

Author: Beata Bigaj-Zwonek CyberEmpathy ISSUE 9 Cyber Art