top of page

What were the rules for composing a painting?
How to analyze a painted work?
Was there a composition secret for the old masters ?

To provide answers, in 1993 I invented pictorial archeology .

My discoveries highlight an art made of rules ,

techniques and links to make an image "speak",

an ancient philosophy of composition.


The ultimate goal of painting is to tell a story

Philostratus - Greek philosopher 165

Ne me croyez pas, 

vérifiez par vous-même !

Dernière mise à jour : 8 JUIN 2024

Presentation video: 3'30

Second Video: "First composition rule" on this page .

What is the role of composition in painting?

Art is a need of absolute

Hegel - Esthétique

While art tends towards beauty, wholeness, every branch of art, painting, poetry, music, does it with its own means.

Since the means are not infinite, they are therefore incomplete. From then on, each art seeks what it lacks in order to tend towards a unity, a finished beauty.

Thus, we can conceive that music seeks silence, dance seeks flight, and

peinting seeks mouvement.


It seems to me that it is the movement, the momentum, the unfolding in time that painting seeks (this more than the representation of the third dimension that has been solved with the rules of perspective).

By extension I could say that the immobile image of painting ideally tends towards a story unfolding.


The ultimate goal of painting is to tell a story 

                                                 Philostrate - Greek philosopher 165 - 254


And later, another great thinker and great artist said:

The character (in a work) most praiseworthy

is he who, by his movement,

best reflects the passions of the soul.    

Leonard De Vinci


One can then ask: with what tools did the painters seek to create a movement and meaning to be able to tell ?

The theme ? The drawing ? The colour ?

Yes, certainly with all these means. But, in my opinion, it would be essentially through the composition inside a format that painters take up this challenge of the narrative.


Every thing is in the composition  


composition de la peinture : RAPHAEL Rome

Raphaël - The School of Athens (detail) - 1512 - Vatican - photo Guy Mauchamp

Comment les peintres composaient-ils une histoire sur une toile fixe ?

I try to show here with my work of pictorial archeology that painters composed with long-tried rules and techniques. This is to install relationships, links that are more felt than seen. These composition links make it possible to harmonize a work, to weave a coherence and mainly to set the eye in motion to unfold a story.


"Composition is an operation of painting by which,

in a work, we bring the different parts together. "

Leon Alberti - De Pictura - 1435


These rules and techniques of pictorial composition are both an aesthetic aid and a pictorial vocabulary that painters have invented, just as poets imposed rhymes and feet on themselves to offer musicality to their texts.

"In the arts, nothing that is well done is by chance. I know of no work that has succeeded other than by the artist's foresight and science:

they use rules, lines and numbers everywhere. "

                                                                            Plutarch - Greek philosopher art historian in the 1st century.

A philosophy of looking

But more than knowing these rules and techniques, I suggest you see for yourself that the painters made use of a real philosophy of looking. Philosophy which would certainly have been born during Ancient Greece (1). The foundations of the pictorial composition would have been laid there and then enriched over the centuries in the shadow of the workshops of the masters of the Renaissance.

This philosophy had a central idea: everything is linked in our universe and therefore painting cannot be extracted from this universal law of relationship. The painters thus invented and developed a system of invisible links between the characters and the symbols of a painting in order to make them "speak".

Guy Achéologie picturale

Highlighting composition lines with strings, as painters did in their workshops. Photo: Pascal Meyer - 2013

My proposals to see the rules and techniques of compositions are verifiable and reproducible.

As in all science (2), these are concrete observations which suggest hypotheses which then validate theses. These theses are applicable to a large number of pictorial works across several schools. To verify this you can consult my databases whose observations and inductions are the source of the rules and techniques that I set out here (3).


I would be very happy if this site put me in touch with other amateurs or professionals who would validate or invalidate my proposals, which is one of the foundations of any serious approach.


1 - There would be a study to be deepened from the schools of Pythagoras, Democritus and Empedocles about their theories on art and perhaps about the "Diaphane". Theory developed not only as a description of vision, but also as a philosophy of the arts by Democritus. The composition traces as I show them seem to be born during this ancient time.


2 - I was inspired by my research work on the scientific methods of modern archeology. See the page "Pictorial archeology"

3 - see the "databases" pages in the tab of Pictorial Archeology.

Do not hesitate to leave your comment, your questions at the bottom of the page, my pleasure is to be able to exchange with you on the pictorial composition. Thank you.



Work protected by copyright © guymauchamp U79J1B9 and a deposit at SGDL Paris.

bottom of page