perspective, in art, any method employed to represent three-dimensional space on a flat surface or in relief sculpture. Although many periods in art showed some progressive diminution of objects seen in depth, linear perspective, in the modern sense, was probably first formulated in 15th-century Florence by the architects Brunelleschi and Alberti. Brunelleschi designed (c.1420) two panels depicting architectural views of Florence, in which he constructed a mathematically proportioned system of perspective. Alberti, in his De pittura (1435), harnessed the technique of perspective to the theory that painting is an imitation of reality. He viewed the picture plane as a window through which one looks at the visible world. Objects in the picture were to be systematically foreshortened as they receded into the distance. Orthogonal lines converged to a single vanishing point, which was to correspond to the fixed viewpoint of the spectator. Reflecting the growth of humanism, the spectator played a new role in art, as man was to determine the measurement of all things. The Italian artists who experimented with perspective, including Donatello, Masaccio, Uccello, and Piero della Francesca, sometimes diverged from the rules for a greater artistic effect. In general, however, the 15th-century Italian artists tended to work within a geometrical system, whereas the contemporary Flemish painters used more empirical means to achieve a convincing delineation of space. The technique of linear perspective had an immense influence on the development of Western art. In the 20th cent., however, its use has considerably declined, since many artists have rebelled against the conception of art as a mirror image of reality. Aerial or atmospheric perspective was developed primarily by Leonardo da Vinci. In general, it is based on the perception that contrasts of color and of light and dark appear greater, and contours more defined, in near objects than in far. Aerial perspective takes note of the recessive character of cool colors and the prominence of warm colors. In East Asian art, perspective effects were achieved by the atmospheric method, often incorporating zones of mist to separate near and far space.

See R. V. Cole, Perspective for Artists (1976); J. Cody, Atlas of Foreshortening (1984); M. Kubovy, The Psychology of Perspective and Renaissance Art (1988).

Depiction of three-dimensional objects and spatial relationships on a two-dimensional plane. In Western art, illusions of volume and space are generally created by use of the linear perspective system, based on the observation that objects appear to shrink and parallel lines to converge at an infinitely distant vanishing point as they recede in space from the viewer. The vanishing point may have been known to the Greeks and Romans but had been lost until Filippo Brunelleschi rediscovered the principles of linear or “mathematical” perspective early in the 15th century. Linear perspective dominated Western painting until the late 19th century, when Paul Cézanne flattened the conventional picture plane. The Cubists and other 20th-century painters abandoned depiction of three-dimensional space altogether. Seealso aerial perspective.

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Method of producing a sense of depth in a painting by imitating the effect of atmosphere that makes objects look paler, bluer, and hazier or less distinct in the middle and far distance. The term was coined by Leonardo da Vinci, but the technique can be seen in ancient Greco-Roman wall paintings (e.g., at Pompeii). It was discovered that dust and moisture in the atmosphere caused the scattering of light passing through it; short-wavelength light (blue) is scattered most and long-wavelength light (red) least. Italian painters in Leonardo's time used the device; it was exploited by 15th-century northern European artists and later by J.M.W. Turner.

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