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Visual markers

What I call "visual markers" are landmarks that painters installed

in connection with their composition tracks. Markers are most often made up of spikes

clothes of the characters, pieces of cloth, etc.

These markers are directly visible to everyone on the paintings.


For example, with "freedom guiding the people" of Delacroix (it is the image at the head of this site), you can distinguish several markers. The red corner to the left of the flag held by Marianne is a marker on which comes an oblique parallel (in purple) to the boy's pistol. Another red tip at the bottom of the flag and the tip of Marianne's cap are also two markers that clearly set her line of sight (in red). We see on the "Table Analysis" page that Marianne's many angles of view point precisely to the arms and eyes of the characters in this scene.

There are other markers to discover in this scene from Delacroix.

Dealcroix, Liberty, Markers with the points of the flag and the hat.

Delacroix - Freedom guiding the people (detail) - Three markers are highlighted here by the composition lines, other markers are also visible.

Another fine example of a significant marker with Venus and Titian's organist: the extended line of the organist's knife points to the coachman in the landscape. This line is wedged on the marker of the red curtain. Note that this point of the red curtain is just on the vertical line directly above the sex of Venus. What delight Freudian analysts with the link between the knife of the man, the driver with his fiery horses and this red tip oriented towards the female sex! You can have fun checking this oblique knife by drawing a parallel through the index of Cupid, the breast and navel of Venus, and ... her sex.

Titien - Vénus et l'Organiste - Marqeur avec le couteau de l'organiste

Titian - Venus and the organist - 1550 - Uffizi Florence - photo guymauchamp - The line of the knife is wedged on the marker of the red curtain which is above the sex of Venus.

In addition to the markers with points of fabrics, other types of markers are possible: a lock of hair, the speech bubbles, a parchment, a feather, a branch, etc ...

For example with the Bacchus of Caravaggio, it is a branch of vine leaf which serves as a marker for setting a 9 ° angle (in blue) of its line of gaze of the left eye (in red). This line of sight is placed on the golden grid (yellow line) and on the square earth grid (green line) on the edge of the format.

Caravage - Bacchus (détail) - La branche

Caravaggio - Bacchus (detail) - The 9 ° viewing angle (in blue) is wedged on the end of the vine stem.

Van Der Weyden (below) is particularly fond of this marker technique in his works. The gaze lines of Marie's right eye point to four markers on her veil (white arrows) and the vertical of her left eye is wedged on another marker above her eye.

Van der WEYDEN - Madona Duran - Marqueur

Van Der Weyden - Madona Duran - 1440 - Prado - Five markers with the veil of Mary

A marker most often helps to see the inclination of a line of sight, as here with a feather placed by Élisabeth Vigier-Lebrun. The left eye of Mr Calonne is posed on the white feather while his look at 36 ° (in yellow) points the letter to the king and at 18 ° (in blue) his index finger.

Vigier-lebrun - Portrait de Calonne - 17

Vigier-Lebrun -Portrait de Mr Calonne - 1785 - A feather serves as a marker for the line of sight (in red).

What is the purpose and meaning of these markers ?


The markers are always placed on a composition plot. They therefore meet the general rule of composition: EVERYTHING MUST BE LINKED IN A COMPOSITION. These markers are not essential in a composition, they could very well be removed, the subject would not deteriorate. However, these markers are part of the visual functioning, of the rhythm, of the graphic cohesion.

The markers are part of this rule which installs a graphic coherence for the visual comfort and the general understanding of the work.



I still wonder today if these markers were placed voluntarily by the painter to facilitate the reading of his composition. Indeed, after several years of research and visits to painting museums, I am beginning to discern certain composition lines, notably thanks to these markers. But other times, it is only with manual research that I can find a composition thanks to a marker.


For example, with this "marriage of Marie and Joseph" by Raphaël, I looked at the lines of gaze of Marie. It was very difficult for me to find the inclination of his line of gaze. I then remembered the use of markers and Raphaël is not stingy. So I noticed this little point of red clothing on the floor behind Marie's head. By drawing a line through this marker and through the eye of Mary, this line points to the end of the rod held by Joseph. This is entirely congruent with the theme of this scene since Joseph is the first owner of a flowering stem, a necessary condition for obtaining marriage with Marie. Besides, in the foreground, a young ousted suitor breaks out of spite his unblossomed stem on his knee.

The lines of gaze of Mary drawn using these two markers then point to significant elements, such as the wedding ring and the focal point of perspective in the door of the temple.

Raphaël - Marriage of the Virgin - 1504 - Markers with the mantle and the flowered stem

Raphaël - The Marriage of the Virgin - 1504 - Milan - the Virgin's gaze (in red) is easily wedged thanks to two markers.

The question of whether these markers were present to assist in reading the composition remains open. I hope that one day art historians will look into it and discover elements allowing a duly supported interpretation.

Markers with vertical line technique

With this Van Der Weyden tryptic many markers are linked by the technique of vertical lines in connection with points of the first rule of composition.

Van Der Weyden - Triptique de la crucifi

Van Der Weyden - triptych of the crucifixion - 1445 - Vienna - the technique of vertical lines points to many markers.

Markers with preferred angles

With this Benaglio below, the two small parchments arranged on the two columns have markers with their horny corners. One corner forms a 36 ° left angle in yellow and the other corner forms a 30 ° right angle in green. These are therefore two preferred angles of the painters and both point to the knot of the Virgin's tunic.

To verify this, the angle at 36 ° is parallel to the line of sight which passes between the two eyes of Jesus, at 36 °.

The scrolls do not show readable text, so they are to be seen as symbols, as are the columns to which they are hung and the knot they point to.


Benaglio - Madonna and Child with a Pear - 1465 - The markers are given by the horny corners of the parchments on the columns.

Soul line markers

Raphaël offers us a marker with a corner of his headdress at the top of his left eye. This marker is used to wedge the horizontal line of the core (in purple).

To verify this, an angle of the line of the core at 9 ° (in light blue) is placed on the horizontal of the grid of the earth square (in green), while the right eye is placed on the diagonal of the sky square (not drawn here).

Raphael, Self-portrait, 1506, marker on the corner of the hat

Raphaël - Self-portrait - 1506 - the line of the soul (in purple) is wedged on the corner of the black cap.

Sittow wedged the line of the soul of Mary (in purple), the 30 ° look of the soul of Jesus and the 18 ° look of the goldfinch on the tip of white fabric very prominent on the forehead of Mary.

Sittow - Vierge à l'enfant et chardonner

Sittow - Virgin Child and goldfinch - 1518 - Prado - Marker for the lines of the soul of Mary and Jesus. Traced picture © guy mauchamp

This marker technique has lasted for at least three to four centuries. We find her, for example, with the talented painter Élisabeth Vigier-Lebrun where her self-portrait unequivocally shows this same functioning of markers.

Vigier-Lebrun - Autoportrait - 1780 - Le

Vigier-Lebrun - Self-portrait (detail) - 1780 - the 9 ° (blue), 30 ° (green) and 36 ° (yellow) viewing angles condition the headdress markers. Another 36 ° viewing angle points the brush.

The markers prove the composition plots

Markers work congruently with three rules and three composition techniques:

- preferential angles

- vertical lines

- the line of sight technique

- the technique of soul lines

- harmonic grids

This association of markers with rules and techniques already demonstrated is further proof of the existence of painters' composition lines.

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


Travail protégé par un copyright ©guymauchamp U79J1B9 et un dépôt à la SGDL Paris.

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