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November 21, 2008


Tricky blighter, Johnny Perspective.

Siege of Tripoli, 1289, unknown artist

It took a while for painters to work out what exactly goes on in the distance.

Laurentius de Voltina, late 14th Century

Trying to come to terms with the duality of perspective and the fact that the man standing next to you, who is the same size as you, is now tiny wee. As we can see here:


To us, this looks ok, and normal and we make all the right assumptions about the distant man being probably about the same size as the front man

But here is the distant man, cut and pasted, next to the front man:


When youre working on a panel, itd be really hard to paint the distant man that size, it would feel like the second image ludicrous. When you just have an empty panel or a blank piece of paper, its difficult to believe the measurements your eye tells you lies, aided and abetted by your mind, which, after all, is only working with recognition and perception not truth.

It wasnt until the 16th Century that artists got to grips with perspective, your man Raphael is oft cited as the first to truly unlock the puzzle, when, at the age of 25, he painted this:

The School of Athens, fresco, 1510 - 1511

It took Father Dougal slightly longer:

Once artists got the hang of perspective, they started to play games with it, adding its illusionary powers to their tool box. Lots of perspective effects populate the world of optical and psychological illusion. One of the best is the Ames window, conceived by Professor Adelbert Ames.

Posted by john at November 21, 2008 09:01 PM