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The looks of the characters

Here is the technique most certainly speaking, the most significant of the pictorial composition. It is with this technique that the concerns, interests and purpose of a character will be revealed. These lines of sight install the meaning and the content of the narration in connection with the theme of the work, this since ancient Greece (1) .



The operation is simple to understand and to carry out.

It is an application of Euclidean geometry:

2 points define a line.


The two eyes of a character

make the two points that define

its horizontal line of gaze  


To materialize this line of sight one can use a taut string as did the painters, or else draw a line in pencil on a reproduction.

Then with a plumb line, or a compass, we draw the vertical perpendiculars that pass through each of the eyes.

Here are the lines of the gaze lines (in red) of a Roman woman and the line of gaze of LOUIS XIII.

Roman fresco - Pompeii - 450 BC

Roman fresco - Pompeii - 450 Av.JC

Simon VOUET - Detail of the portrait of Louis XIII with regard lines

Simon VOUET - Detail of the portrait of Louis XIII - 1643 - Louvre. photo © gm

Verification of our "pictorial excavation":

For example, the horizontal line of the Roman woman points to the eye of the man and the vertical line points to her navel. Here we have the application of the 1st rule of composition: point to point of reference of the body. Ditto for Louis XII who "looks" at his index finger.

There is therefore here a congruence between this first observation and the functioning of the first rule.

In addition, I also have other congruences confirming these lines of sight, such as "markers", and also material evidence ( evidence developed in another article )





With this Roman fresco and this portrait of Louis XIII, a continuity of the use of this technique is observed throughout this long period. But it actually lasted until Cubism with its famous founder Pablo PICASSO:

Analysis of Guernica from PICASSO, lines of gaze in chaos.

Pablo PICASSO - GUERNICA (detail) - 1937 - Sofia - Analysis  of lines of gaze in chaos.

With GUERNICA de PICASSO we are seized by the chaotic composition illustrating a German bombing in Spain. In this heartbreak where everything seems fragmented, Picasso nevertheless retained the unwavering links which link the characters and even the animals thanks to the lines of gaze (in red) not visible at first glance, but very present when they are made concrete.

The same lines of gaze can be linked between all the women of the 'Demoiselles d'Avignon ".





Even if this technique is obvious, evocative and speaking, it remains quite limited.

the painted figures are also concerned with other subjects around them than those pointed by their horizontal and vertical line of gaze. Indeed, lines starting from the eyes at an angle also point to significant elements in relation to the theme of the work. From my database tables in many works that the lines of looks of the characters, it appears that

the main angles formed by these manholes are not surprising

those of the 2nd rule of the preferred angles of the painters: 9 ° - 18 ° - 30 ° - 36 ° - 45 ° .


These are not the only observable angles, as it seems that others are occasionally used (see the database of preferential angles). For example Leonardo da Vinci would use 7 angles contained in 90 °, like the 7 notes of the range (Cf: Leonardo da Vinci's manuscripts 2037)


The congruence of these lines of sight with the 2nd rule of preferential angles is confirmed a second time.



The schools of Pythagoras, Democritus and Empedocles taught with some small variations that the functioning of sight is the effect of a ray, coming from the inner fire of man. This ray is propagated in the air while leaving the eye to direct itself towards the objects. This is the "Diaphanous" theory.

From the eyes comes an inner fire, which one must undoubtedly associate with an entity such as the soul or the spirit.

Du Diaphane - Vasilu ANCA - Edition Vrin


These written, historical references date from - 500 years BC. They allow a quite striking comparison with the drawing of the manholes with this Eros (below) then with this courtesan who are dated from the same period.

These lines of looks from the eyes would be a fairly coherent graphic illustration of the theory in force during this period of great philosophical theories .


Eros - Ancient Greece - Analysis of the lines of sight

Eros - Ancient Greece - 460 BC - Louvre - photo & traces © gm

The colors of the angles are only a personal code that I created to facilitate the visualization. Eros - Ancient Greece - Analysis of the lines of sight

With this Greek Hero ceramic above, it is easy to draw your lines of gaze (in red) even with a single visible eye. This one being drawn in the shape of an almond, it indicates the line of the horizontal gaze which precisely points its index finger.

Then by drawing from his eye an angle of 9 ° (blue), it points the end of his penis, then two angles of 36 ° (in yellow) point the second index and the tip of his wing.

The composition with the line of sight and the preferential angles underlines the theme and the attributes of this divinity.

Woman holding a phallus. Analysis of gaze angles

Woman with phallus bird - Ancient Greece - 490 BC - Louvre - photo & traces © gm

With this woman with the phallus bird , above, the plots of the viewing angles point her knee at 30 ° (in green) then the eye at 9 ° (in blue) and the end of the phallus bird at 36 ° (in yellow). Elements which underline the initiation (with the knees) that this future courtesan receives.

The composition with these lines of looks associated with the preferential angles highlights the theme of this painting.

However, observations of Greek and Roman paintings ( see the inventory of works studied ) do not really allow the theory of these lines of sight to be verified with other techniques. On the other hand, by analyzing more recent works, crossovers between the three rules and the three techniques are possible.


with Saint John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci

This late, sober and stripped-down work by Léonard DeVINCI shows several congruences between the angles of gaze and the rules and techniques of composition.

According to a convention widely used by painters, the line of sight of a character often points to a symbol relating to the theme of the painting. Here it is the cross.

On the right image, the horizontal gaze of St Jean-Baptiste points to the left branch of the cross.

The preferential angles are present with the precision dear to Leonardo da Vinci: the 9 ° in blue points the index, the 45 ° in orange points the middle finger with the other hand, the 36 ° points the thumb.

So we have two congruences with the first rule of narrative lines and the second rule of preferential angles.

Leonardo Da Vinvi - Saint John -  Viewing angles analysis

Léonard De Vinci- St Jean-Baptiste (detail) - 1516 - Louvre - photo & traces © gm. The viewing angles of the left eye point 2 major, the thumb and the cross.

Leonardo Da Vinci - Viewing angles analysis ands grids

Leonardo Da Vinci - other viewing angles at 9 °, 18 ° and 45 ° point to the third grid (in purple) and the golden grid (in yellow)

Léonard De VINCI, the look of St Jean is conditioned by the grid of the half-medians

Leonardo Da Vinci - The line of sight and the harmonic grid of the half-medians (in white) are parallel and condition the branch of the cross.

Another congruence appears with a harmonic grid. Leonardo Da Vinci would have used several harmonic grids for his composition of St Jean-Baptiste, including the grid of half-medians. This grid allowed Leonardo to install the right point of the cross.

However, by visualizing this grid of half-medians and the line of gaze, we see that they are parallel. As if St Jean-Baptiste's gaze leaned on this construction to support his divine gesture pointed to the sky.

We now have with these plots two rules and a composition technique that work congruently with the lines of sight.

You can continue these validations, for example by drawing the parallels of the horizontal branch of the cross and the grid of the earth square.

More meaning with Bernardo Luini

From the beginning of the Renaissance, the need to "tell" the complexity of the characters and their relationships with others led painters to imagine new resources. Thus, the eyes of a character are sometimes non-symmetrical, with each their inclination, which offers the possibility of drawing two distinct lines of gaze. With two lines of sight it is therefore possible to point twice as many significant things.


Let us take the case of this Virgin and Child by Luini (pupil of Leonardo da Vinci) which shows a shift in the eyes of Mary interesting to detail.

LUINI - Virgin and Jesus - The looks of Mary

Bernardo Luini - Vierge à l'enfant (Détail) - 1517 - MBA de Dijon -

Lignes de regard de l'œil gauche de Marie.  Photo & tracés©gm

Le regard de l'œil gauche de Marie est incliné de 3°. Peut-on avancer que Luini voulait évoquer la Trinité ?  La verticale de l'œil pointe son pouce (sa volonté) qui d'un geste gracieux ouvre son corsage pour allaiter son enfant. Une ligne de regard à 9° pointe l'auriculaire et l'orteil de Jésus. Une autre ligne à 19° est calée sur l'inclinaison du regard de Jésus qui déjà regarde ailleurs.

La volonté de Marie semble s'ouvrir aux besoins présents et aux futurs desseins de Jésus.


Par contre l'œil droit de Marie est incliné à 1°. L'idée de ne pas poser un regard sur une horizontale parfaite est une iconographie habituelle pour les personnages saints. Ainsi avec un regard non parfait, incliné de juste 1 degré cela confère une expression de l'imperfection du monde incarné.

Les lignes de regard de Marie passent par les doigts de Jésus. Une ligne à 9° pointe  à nouveau le pouce de Marie.  Une autre à 9° vise le pouce de Jésus, à 45° l'auriculaire de Marie et à 30° la bouche de Jésus, de laquelle sera prononcée à l'avenir la parole de Dieu..

LUINI les regards de Marie, œil droit.

Bernardo Luini - Vierge à l'enfant (Détail) -

Lignes de regard de l'œil droit de Marie.

Bernardo Luini -

Les regards de Marie avec ses yeux décalés.

Soit 9 points de la 1ère règle visés par les regards bienveillants de la vierge.

 photo & tracés©gm

LUINI, Marie et les neufs points d'intérets de ses regards.

VERIFICATION avec la grille des médianes

Comme d'habitude, vérifions nos tracés de regards afin de ne pas enfiler le chausson de Cendrillon à une belle théorie personnelle. Cette précaution se valide ci-dessous avec la grille harmonique des médianes (en blanc).

La médiane verticale passe par le nez de Marie et par les deux auriculaires de Jésus qui font donc trois points de référence de la première règle. La médiane horizontale sert d'appui à l'annulaire de Marie. Cette grille a donc conditionné quatre points de composition des personnages.

LUNI Vierge et Jésus, les lignes de regard pointe la grille des médianes

Bernardo Luini - Vierge à L'enfant - Musée des Beaux Arts de Dijon -

Les regards de Marie et Jésus (en rouge) convergent sur la médiane au bord du format (indiqué par la flèche blanche). Photo & tracés Guy Mauchamp

Puis au bas du format, la médiane verticale a servi de guide à la ligne de l'œil gauche de Marie ainsi qu'à la ligne de l'œil gauche de Jésus. Marie et Jésus semblent bien réuni par une vision commune avec ces tracés de compostion.

1 : Empédocle, philosophe du V° siècle Av-J.C. écrivait dans un poème sur la nature de l'univers :

"...quand on songe à sortir on se munit d'une lampe,

Éclair du feu ardent durant une nuit d'hiver,

La lumière, se projetant en dehors, s'étend d'autant plus loin,

Elle brille sur le seuil, en rayons éblouissants ;

De même le feu antique enfermé dans les membranes ( les yeux, Ndlr)...

Et le feu qui sort de l'œil, s'étend d'autant plus loin."

N'hésitez pas à laisser votre commentaire, vos questions en pied de page, mon plaisir est de pouvoir échanger sur la composition picturale. Merci.


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

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