Parallel obliques

Le personnage (dans une œuvre) le plus digne d’éloges

est celui qui, par son mouvement, traduit le mieux

les passions de l’âme.

Léonard de Vinci - Carnets -

The best known composition technique in the art world is that of oblique parallels. Indeed, these are the ones that are most easily noticed. They install a dynamism, a vigor, a rhythm in the composition because they come in visual opposition with the edges of the frame.
Most often the oblique parallels are detectable from a rectilinear object visible in the scene.


What is not well known, however, is that

the oblique lines are supports for placing the reference points of the body of the characters: eye, index, thumb, heel, breast, knee, mouth, etc.

1 - Parallel obliques with Eugène Delacroix


Take the example of the flagpole that Marianne holds in her hand in Delacroix's work. The technique consists, as the first rule of composition wants , to extend the axis then to find the parallels which will cross the 12 points of the first rule: an eye, index, thumb, etc.

This axis drawn below in purple is the master oblique which conditions the other secondary obliques.

The oblique mistress of the flag already points three points of the first rule, one eye, two inches.

The secondary obliques indicate twelve points of the first rule.

We also note that the flagpole is parallel to the child's pistol pointed at the sky and that the extended axis of this pistol points to the heel of Marianne who is walking towards freedom. Or a double connection for the forward movement in solidarity.

DELACROIX, Freedom, the parallel obliques of composition with the flag bearer.

Eugène Delacroix - Liberty guiding the people - 1831 - Louvre - photo plots © guymauchamp


To support the dynamism and the dramaturgy of the scene, Delacroix installs several series of obliques in its composition. See, below, the parallels to Marianne's gun . They set up thirteen points of the first rule: the axis of the rifle points Marianne's thumb and toe and on the left parallel are no less than four points on the child and the man on the ground.

DELACROIX, Freedom, Analysis of parallels with the rifle

Delacroix - Parallel obliques from the Marianne rifle


Below the parallels to the pistol held in the left hand by the boy. Again these obliques with the pistol conditioned the location of fourteen points of the first rule. The dynamism of Marianne's raised arm is supported by this oblique pistol.

DELACROIX "freedom" Analysis of the parallels of the child's pistol.

Delacroix - Parallel obliques from the pistol held below by the child

All these parallel obliques guide the gaze in dynamic and intersecting eye movements. Like the violence of the fighting, these obliques do not leave the eye at rest. In addition, they systematically link a weapon, a combatant and a dead man. They also converge on the foot of the Marianne on the march and on the flagpole.

This is a fine illustration of the aesthetic and narrative use of these parallel obliques.

You can continue these observations of composition, for example by drawing parallels to the rifle held by the man on the left.

2 - Obliques with a harmonic grid with Titian

With this magnificent portrait full of tenderness and sweetness, Titian also conditions his composition with the parallel obliques. But here these obliques are conditioned by another technique of composition, that of the harmonic grids.

The entire movement of the scene is secretly guided by the harmonic grid of the half-medians (in white). Indeed, the small mirror on the left is parallel to this grid.

The parallels to the oblique mistress of the small mirror respond well to the first rule of composition by pointing the eyes of the two characters and the fingers of the young woman.

Other elements are also crossed by these obliques such as the lock of hair, the opening of the dress and the knot of the petticoat.

The woman's face inclined according to these obliques, accentuates the general impression of harmony

TITIEN Woman in her toilet Ananlyse of parallels to the mirror

TITIEN - The young woman at her toilet - 1515 - Louvre - photo traces © gm

Below, the small edge of the extended mirror indicates another oblique which allowed Titian to relate the mouths and fingers of the two lovers, always following the first rule of composition.

In contrast to Delacroix's "La Liberté guidant le Peuple", there are here only two perpendicular obliques which are simply conditioned by a non-visible harmonic grid. This quiet composition installs a serenity in this intimate scene.

TITIEN Young woman Ananlyse des obliques 2

A second perpendicular is drawn from the short side of the mirror. A parallel passing through two fingers and the nose points to the median of the format.

You can experience this same operation with the mirror of Venus with the mirror of Titian of 1555.

3 - Free obliques with Leonardo da Vinci

Free oblique lines are not conditioned by a visible object or by an invisible harmonic grid. They are independent of other techniques and have sole carrier that the first rule of composition.


Therefore, to detect these oblique lines it is necessary to know the first rule of painters which is used to relate characters in a subtle way through the symbolic points of the human body.


If I dare to approach a work by the great master of painting, it is because the composition of The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne is quite clear to me. In this tender and graceful scene, no visible straight line used to draw a possible oblique is visible.
However, if we refer to the first rule of composition, two obliques appear thanks to four points of interest: the eyes and the thumb of Jesus for the first oblique. The two thumbs of Jesus, the foot of Saint Anne and the hoof of the lamb for the second oblique.

Four points of the first rule for the same line, does that not eliminate the possibility of chance or a personal projection?


These two obliques thus translate the whole movement of the scene with the looks of the three characters and that of the actions with the two hands of Jesus and the feet. One could say that following Jesus' gaze the first oblique rises towards the azure sky while the second is directed towards the earth and the feet pointing at the dark and disturbing chasm.

Léonard De VINCI St Anne - Analysis of the composition of oblique parallels

Léonard De VINCI - The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne - 1513 - Louvre -

The two major obliques managed by the points of the first composition rule -

photo plots © gm

By looking for parallels to these two major obliques, their reconstruction in this masterful composition leaves little doubt.

The first major oblique below is that which rises towards the sky from the thumb and the gaze of Jesus crossing the left eye of Mary and then the right eye of St Anne. This line could be that of spiritual life, made of love and spirit.

This oblique forms a perpendicular with the second major line, but this apparently right angle - symbol of the righteousness of Christ? - is actually 92 °!

It is not an approximation, which would be inconceivable on the part of Da Vinci who venerated precision so much. These 2 ° too many participate in an iconographic functioning that I have often encountered in religious compositions. It would be a question of signifying a problem, or a challenge to be met, an understanding to be acquired through the earthly test.

Léonard De VINCI St Anne, analysis of secondary parallel obliques

First major oblique directed towards the sky of azure and its secondary obliques

Now the second major oblique below reads rather in the direction of the earth, as indicated by the feet turned towards a disturbing precipice . This oblique concerns especially the lamb symbol of the sacrifice of the life of Christ

Léonard De VINCI St Anne, Analysis of compositional parallels, secondary obliques.

Second major oblique directed towards the earth and its secondary obliques

It would seem that the marriage of these two obliques which everything opposes would thus sum up all the destiny and the salutary scope of the life of Christ.

Verification with a harmonic grid and lines of sight

In the process of pictorial archeology it is essential to verify a thesis by an induction using different theses to see if they overlap congruently.


Let us trace below the grid of the sky (blue) and earth (green) squares. Six points of the first rule are placed on this earth-sky grid: mouth and eye of Mary, eye of Jesus, etc. And five of these points of the first rule are part of the points of the parallel obliques.


There is indeed a congruence between the points of the obliques and those of the sky-earth grid.

Léonard DeVINCI Verification of the obliques with the earth-sky grid

Congruence of the points of the obliques with the points of the grid of the earth square.


Let us draw below the lines of gaze of Marie's left eye (in red). In blue the preferred angles of 9 ° and 18 °.

The 18 ° viewing angle is superimposed on the major oblique of the sky (purple). Mary therefore looks at 18 ° at the eyes of St Anne and Jesus on the same major oblique line.

While her 9 ° line of vision points to the left eye of St Anne and the mouth of Jesus.

There is again a congruence between the points of the major oblique with the line of sight of Mary.

DeVINCI Analysis looks and major oblique

Congruence of the points of the obliques with the points of Marie's gaze, her 18 ° gaze is that of the oblique mistress.

You can experience this same operation with The Virgin on the Rock by Leonardo da Vinci.

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.




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