The Origin of Perspective

The Origin of Perspective



Paradoxically, one of the most important inventions in the history of painting is due to an architect, Filippo Brunelleschi. He laid the foundations of the method that would allow plastic artists to reproduce figures and objects as perceived by the human eye. We speak of the origin of linear perspective.

The first work in which the revolutionary laws enunciated by Brunelleschi (Florence, 1377-1446) were put into practice in Masaccio’s La Trinidad (1426-1428), located in the Florentine church of Santa Maria Novella.

Recreates the scene, inside a chapel, the Christian dogma of the Holy Trinity. The center of the fresco is occupied by Christ on the cross and, in the background, God the Father and the Holy Spirit appear in the form of a dove. To the sides of the main personages are the Virgin Mary and San Juan and, located a step below the imaginary chapel, the figures of the donors, supposedly members of the Lenzi family.

The composition completes the sarcophagus of the lower part, which recalls the ephemeral nature of the earthly, and the architecture where the scene unfolds. Of which, it emphasizes the vaulted paneled and the arch supported on two Ionic columns that, in turn, is framed in two Corinthian pilasters of pink capitals. In fact, the formal language of the painted architecture is similar to the buildings built by Brunelleschi in Florence, so it is believed that the architect could have acted as artistic adviser in the realization of the painting.

To obtain that depth that makes it appear real to the spectator’s eyes, Masaccio (San Giovanni Valdarno, 1401- Rome, 1428) used a precise mathematical calculation that would allow him to reproduce all the characters according to their position in space. Likewise, it used a complex web of auxiliary lines, which still distinguish themselves under the layers of color. All these lines are born of a central vanishing point that the Italian artist skillfully placed at the ideal level of vision for the observer, that is, in the lower step.

It is also relevant the color combination of blues and reds, resorting to the gradation of the intensity of the contours, which give dynamism and accentuate that depth created by the artifice of the drawing of architecture in perspective.

In order to achieve this three-dimensional, Masaccio had to bring about changes that had never been conceived before, such as not giving a smaller size to non-divine figures to reflect his theocratic hierarchy. In this way, he disregarded the flat perspective of the Middle Ages that subordinated the dimensions and proportions of the elements of a painting to its ideological importance. Although, the pyramidal structure that rules the composition, and that also helps to enhance the depth, does emphasize that theocratic order.

Until well into the nineteenth century, painting was governed by the laws of scientific perspective. This demonstrates the extraordinary magnitude of the invention. Undoubtedly, one of the great artistic landmarks of all time.

Adriana Vega

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