Comparing Linear & Aerial Perspectives

Comparing Linear & Aerial Perspectives
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  • 00:00 Perspective
  • 00:48 Linear Perspective
  • 2:45 Aerial Perspective
  • 4:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the techniques developed by Renaissance artists to create realistic illusions of depth. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Perspective

I know what you're thinking: 'After all of this high-blown talk about the importance of art, how to interpret art, and the meaning of art, it's about time for a little perspective.' Great idea! Let's talk perspective. In art, that term has a very specific meaning.

Perspective is the attempt to depict realistic three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface. In other words, the illusion of spatial depth on a flat surface. This is one of the most fundamental tenants of Western art, and we can thank the artists of the Renaissance for really developing the actual mathematical models that demonstrated perspective. Perspective in art is more than an exploration of techniques; it explores the very basis of how we understand the world around us.

Linear Perspective

When it comes to perspective, there are a few ways that artists can create illusionistic space. The first is called linear perspective, which creates depth by converging all lines onto shared points on the horizon. Let's look at what this means.

Imagine you are standing on a straight road. Now, you know that the two sides of this road are parallel to each other; as long as the road is straight they will never touch. But look down the road. It looks like both sides of the road converge at the horizon. This is how our eyes perceive distance and it is the basis of perspective.

Road displaying linear perspective

Now add a few buildings along that road. Every line, from the windows to the doors to the roof, converge on that same point. A scene like this is called one-point perspective. If looking at a building on the corner, you'll notice that the lines actually head in two different directions towards two points on the horizon. This is two-point perspective.

Perspective was one of the greatest discoveries of Renaissance artists. Technically, the first true example of linear perspective is credited to Ambrogio Lorenzetti. This is his Annunciation, painted in 1344. Look at all the lines on the floor, all receding towards the same spot on the horizon. Lorenzetti experimented with linear perspective, but the real discovery of it is credited to Filippo Brunelleschi, who first studied perspective using geometric formulas and codified the technique.

Annunciation, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti
Aunnunciation, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Throughout the 15th century, Renaissance artists experimented with linear perspective. Here's an early example. This is The Holy Trinity painted by Masaccio around 1427. Christ, the figures below him, and the crypt are all on different levels, requiring a mastery of linear perspective. The best place to see this is the vaulted ceiling above Christ. Look at how all the lines recede to the same point. Linear perspective.

The Holy Trinity, by Mosaccio
The Holy Trinity, by Mosaccio

Aerial Perspective

Linear perspective is pretty awesome, but there is more than one way to create the illusion of space. Another technique is aerial perspective, the illusion of space by creating the impression of atmosphere and reduction of details. Unlike linear perspective, this one is not about math or ratios between parts of an object. It is an optical illusion, imitating tricks of the eye. Let's look at a landscape.

Landscape

What do you notice? See those hills in front of us? They are clear, defined, detailed. However, the further away you look, the less detail you can see. Objects in the distance have less contrast and color saturation, lines are blurred, and things become more blue, a result of all the atmosphere.

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