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Pictorial archeology, introduction

Pictorial archeology is taught in science faculties to future archaeologists. Its subjects are the pigment dates, the paint layer evaluations, the evolution of techniques, the tools of painters, etc. But, to my knowledge, there is no in-depth teaching on composition , the organization of forms, rules and techniques in the history of painting.

I then documented myself on the methods of investigation of archeology

to then grasp the pictorial composition in the most scientific way possible.


But what is science? To put it simply, we can summarize it in three words:

1: Experience - 2: Verification - 3: Visibility

So I followed these basic principles:

- noted and experimented with visible lines on the works. You can do the same on the works of your choice (from ancient Greek times to Impressionism).

- checked and reported my plots on databases for comparison, analogy, deduction and induction.

- these lines and data are all visible directly on the works, there is no need to imagine them,

anyone can view and reproduce this data.


Statement of angles to electronics bracket - photo Pascal Meyer - 2013

It may seem tedious to note straight lines and angles, but without this scientific rigor it is impossible to deduce and formulate rules of pictorial composition verifiable and reproducible by everyone, when they exist .

It is thanks to these concrete observations of the tables reported on databases that I can develop a hypothetico-deductive approach: an induction makes it possible to formulate a hypothesis. This will be confirmed by other observations of different contents to observe if there is congruence between them. Crossing hypotheses on a large number of works seems a sure way not to fall into the illusion of lines that do not exist.

The "excavations" that I propose here consist in finding

  • elements directly visible in the works (so no imagination, projections, interpretations)

  • indisputable elements

  • timeless elements.

For example, a straight line or an angle correspond to these three criteria.

Sorry for the people who thought they were discovering a romantic form of artistic composition, because these are lines, angles and measures that I have concretely noted in the paintings of painters.

It is not a question of falling in love with a straight line, but of noting what he really sees in a work and what it really says. I t really want to highlight an art of composition, because we are talking about   narrative lines , angles of gaze of the characters, or even golden measures . It is more a question of a poetry of composition than of a geometry which would enclose the gaze in concepts.

But here, the scientific approach consists in identifying as many lines or angles as possible visible on the frescoes, tables, drawings, and then transferring them to databases.

Archéologie picturale : tableau de base de données d'observations

click on the database table to enlarge.

Databases from which will emerge, among other things, percentages of their appearances in the works.

In addition: by extending visible straight lines such as swords, scepters, canes, masts, we will see that these lines beyond their visible part point precisely a significant part of the body of a character. The part most often pointed out is the apple of the eye, second comes the thumb, third an index finger, etc. This observation of the extension of the visible lines allowed me to formulate the first most important rule in the pictorial composition:

In a painting with characters, the composition

is created by placing points on the body

(eye, thumb, index, heel, knee, breast, navel, etc.)

precisely on construction lines.

(like harmonic grids, narrative lines, parallel lines, etc.)

For angles, the frequency of their appearance shows that the most used by painters are the following:

9 ° - 18 ° - 30 ° - 36 ° - 45 °.

These angles are rigorously precise, they are not 30.2 ° but well 30 °, nor 35.9 ° but well 36 °!

Capture d’écran 2019-12-19 à

On this table of Hey, with the keys of St Pierre, it will be noted

3 lines pointing 2 eyes and an inch,

and two angles at 9 ° and 45 °

Capture d’écran 2019-12-19 à

With this Rubens, two angles are raised with the instruments : 30 ° and 36 °

This objective observation of the angles allowed me to discover the functioning of the lines of sight of the characters , their interests, their motivations, their interactions.

So these comparisons of objective data compared will allow to go from the induction phase to that of the hypothesis.

I thus noted three hypotheses of pictorial composition.

There are mainly LINES - ANGLES - and MEASUREMENTS

  • The lines hypothesis is formulated as follows: a straight line points to, or crosses 12 specific points on the human body. The first in number being the eye! ... we are in a visual art!

  • Hypothesis of angles of which I have just spoken.

  • Measurement hypothesis, including golden measures with the golden ratio.

The next step in the scientific process will be to move from the isolated hypothesis to the global thesis.

For that, it is necessary to cross these three hypotheses to check if they work together.
And this is the case: narrative lines, preferential angles and golden measures form a homogeneous and inseparable whole. What we will see later.

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 a copyright © guymauchamp U79J1B9 and a Legal deposit at the SGDL Paris.

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