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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: May 2013

11 - The vicissitudes of perspective


From its dawn in the fifteenth century to well into the second half of the nineteenth, perspective was a trademark of European art. A walk through any modern art museum reveals that, in contrast, during the twentieth century this protagonism was by and large abandoned. A plethora of styles – loaning diverse prefixes to the ending ism – placed emphasis on goals independent, when not at odds, with realistic representation and brought with them a shift in drawing techniques.

This falling from grace did not occur overnight. Nor was it the only fate befalling perspective. On the contrary, the techniques of perspective were used for purposes other than the ones which led to their creation and, somehow conversely, a number of alternative techniques were proposed to serve these purposes. The goal of this chapter is to journey through these vicissitudes.


“Yes,” he said, “any deception is a form of magic […]”

Plato (1994: 117) Republic, 413c

Probably the first perspective painting that was widely available to Renaissance men was the Trinity (Figure 11.1) painted by Masaccio in the Church of Santa Maria Novella, in Florence, around 1427. The rendering of the figures was realistic, their sizes uniform across the painting, their importance highlighted by their position. What apparently most impressed the viewers, however, was the vault shown in the background. According to Vasari (1991: 104), “what is most beautiful, besides the figures, is the barrel vault drawn in perspective, and divided in squares full of rosettes which are so well diminished and foreshortened that the wall appears to have holes in it”.

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Manifold Mirrors
  • Online ISBN: 9781139014632
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