SINGULAR PERSPECTIVE with Pedro Berruguete

I discovered this beautiful Annunciation thanks to the blog of Jean-Yves Cordier (1). There he treats the biography of the Spanish painter Berruguete, perspective, light and transparencies with insight. I thank him by the way for having kindly sent me his photos of this remarkable work.

BERRUGUETE, Annunciation, 1490, Miraflores, photo: J.Y. Cordier /Lavieb-Aile

Pedro BERRUGUETE - Annunciation - 1490 - Charterhouse of Miraflores de Burgos. Photo Jean-Yves Cordier / Lavieb-Aile.

Beneath a simple and classic appearance, this Annunciation is quite complex to decipher when one lingers to scrutinize its composition and in particular its perspective.

I recall that the theory of perspective was settled in its principles in 1425 by the Italian Filippo Brunelleschi. We can therefore assume that Berrugete acquired its principles during his long training in Italy in the 1480s.

The track of narrative anomalies.

By slowly detailing this Annunciation, I noted a large number of anomalies, distortions that reminded me of a school of thought of Italian painters of the 15th and 16th centuries. Thanks to these anomalies the idea is to deliver a message to the attentive spectator. For example below, with the axis of the central pillar of the window (in pink), we see by comparing it to the median of the table (in white) that it clearly leans to the left. The notions of imbalance and mediation are then evoked.

On the other hand, some walls or windows are not overhanging either. The carpet also has anomalies, etc.  


The axis of the window column (in pink) leans to the left compared to the vertical median in white.

Ces anomalies ne peuvent être lues séparément. Pour les interpréter, il faut avoir parcouru l'ensemble de la scène avec une approche concrète et pragmatique afin de peut-être dévoiler le message du peintre.

La présence de ces anomalies invite à la vigilance lors du déchiffrage de l'œuvre. Aussi pour aborder notre sujet de la perspective de cette Annonciation, il convient plus que jamais de procéder lentement et méthodiquement pour espèrer ensuite découvrir un message insoupçonné.

Sky perspectives

To start quietly, let's first observe the perspective of the ceilings, the one that is high, since an Annunciation is read from top to bottom. To do this, apply the technique of step-by-step plotting of each of the vanishing lines:

Berruguete - Annunciation - Sky escape routes

Part of the height creepage points focus on a point located on the median of the table

The general vanishing lines (in blue) join a focal point which is placed on the median (in white) of the format. From this point one can draw a horizon line which passes through the precious stone on the forehead of Mary. This horizon line reveals an imbalance between the levels of the two square pillars decorated with sculptures: they are not at the same height. Thus several material elements of the architecture are wobbly or unbalanced while the sky horizon line is organized on the median and on the forehead of Mary, symbol of spirituality. The opposition between the material world of this unstable architecture and the representation in narrative perspective fixed on the mind of Marie installs an interesting but still incomplete dialectic for the moment.

Let's continue without being in a hurry to draw a conclusion because things are becoming more complex by drawing the other lines of flight in height:

Berruguete - Annunciation - The singular lines of flight from the sky.

Other lines of flight in height focus on Marie's middle finger and little finger.

The singular vanishing lines (in blue) behind Gabriel join two focal points on Mary's fingers: the right middle finger, that of Saturn, symbolizes faith and self-confidence, and the right little finger, that of Hermes, symbolizes creative intuition.


Below, with these three focal points, a total of three sky horizon lines are drawn passing through three remarkable points:

- On the upper horizon line, the point on the forehead of Mary marked by a precious stone

- on the median horizon line, the point of Mary's middle finger and the point of Adam's sex (statuette on the left)

- on the lower horizon line, the point of Marie's little finger and the point of Eve's knee (statuette on the right)

BERRUGUETE - Annunciation - The three vanishing lines on the median, Adam and Eve

The white arrows indicate the three focal points of the three lines of sky horizons which pass through four points of the 1st rule of composition.

The focus here is on Adam and Eve. Berruguete reminds us that the Annunciation is the starting point of the divine project to redeem the original sin and he also gives us some clues to understand the state of soul of Mary when she receives the message of The Annunciation.

Earth perspectives

General lines of flight from the ground operate on the same model as lines of flight from the sky:

BERRUGUETE - Annunciation - Earth vanishing lines

In light green the lines of flight from the ground, in dark green the lines of flight of the carpet.

The general lines of flight from the ground are grouped together on a focal point located on the median of the format. So far there is no exception to the perspective technique. On the other hand, by raising other singular vanishing lines on the ground, surprises come to shake up the hegemony of the mono-focal perspective:

BERRUGUETE - Annunciation - Singular earth leakage lines

Les lignes de fuite du pilier de droite (en vert foncé) se regroupent sur l'axe incliné de la colonne (en rose).

Behind Marie, the base of the pillar where Eve appears, shows singular vanishing lines which are grouped on the axis (in pink) of the column inclined in the window (indicated by a white arrow). The axis of these lines points by extending the beak of the dove sent by God.

This singular perspective therefore presents a second earth focal point which is also the center of the arc of a circle (in purple) which draws the vault of Mary's room, the limit of her place of intimacy.


It should be noted that we can guess the presence of a small hole left by the nail which was certainly planted on this focal point to attach a string and thus trace the lines of leakage from the pillar and also to trace the arch of the vault (in fuchsia):

BERRUGUETE - Annunciation - Visible nail hole

The focal point of these singular vanishing lines is pierced with a nail hole probably used to tension a string of lines.

This nail hole, which would have to be verified by an X-ray photograph, constitutes a material element of the traces that I demonstrate here. Indeed, it is established by art historians that the painters (2) of that time planted a nail in their wooden panels to draw incisions in the gesso of vanishing lines from a perspective. Incisions which are also visible in this Annunciation by Berruguete.


The horizon line defined by this focal point passes through two points of the first rule of composition: the point of Gabriel's soul and the nose of Marie. This nose is to be understood here in its context as being a religious symbol and not a sexual symbol. With this nose in connection with the soul of Gabriel it is a question of intuition and clairvoyance.


Let us now see the other singular lines of flight that have not yet been traced: those of the pulpit of the Bible behind Mary:

The spiritual perspective

The singular vanishing lines of the desk focus near Marie's face on the first sky and earth horizon line that I drew at the very beginning of this research.

Berruguete - Annunciation - Singular vanishing lines from the lectern

The focal point of these singular vanishing lines (in pink) of the pulpit and the Bible is placed on the sky-earth horizon line. A single singular vanishing line (in dark pink) points to the stone on Marie's forehead.

On the other hand, this focal point close to the forehead of Mary is also located on the golden harmonic grid (in yellow), below.

A first link is established between these singular lines with the grid based on the golden ratio, the divine relationship. A second singular link stands out with a single line of flight pointing the stone on Marie's forehead

These two singular links mean that I named this horizon line which is also the earth-sky horizon line: Spiritual horizon line.

Berruguete - Annunciation - Singular lines on the spiritual horizon and golden grid

The singular vanishing lines of the pulpit and the Bible point to the golden grid and the stone on Mary's forehead.

The golden grid, that which is governed by the divine order served to set up the architecture, the elements of decoration and the attitude of the characters. But above all, this grid of divine inspiration conditions two points of the first rule of composition:

- the index of Gabriel, that of the superior command but which does not impose

- Mary's left ring finger, that of marriage, but here would be union with a spiritual cause.

The solitary and discreet flightline (in dark purple) under the Bible points to the stone on Mary's forehead.

The qualities of these elements make that I called this horizon line: "the spiritual horizon line".

The four horizons

To summarize, here are the four lines of horizons identified by the general and singular vanishing lines:

Berruguete, Annonciation, les quatre lig

The four horizon lines identified by the general and singular vanishing lines : Spiritual horizon, earth, Adam and Eve

These four horizons with varied qualities connect several points of the first rule of composition:

The point of Gabriel's soul - Marie's forehead, nose, middle finger and little finger - Adam's sex and Eve's knee.

All these elements are completely congruent with the theme of the Annunciation.

Verification of narrative perspectives with the dove

In any research process, it is essential to check the composition plots with other techniques.

It is with the path of the dove sent by God that I propose to trace the extension of its flight (in yellow):

Berruguete - Annunciation - Verification of the four horizon lines with the dove

The yellow line materializing the flight of the dove passes through his eye, the inclined axis of the window column, a focal point of the spiritual horizon line, Mary's nose and finally the corner of the page readable in the Bible. Thus the dove connects the Christian symbol column of Christ, two horizon lines and the Bible. I could also note that the tail of the dove is placed on the harmonic grid of thirds, grid which evokes the Holy Trinity in a religious work.

Again all of these elements are congruent with the theme of the Annunciation.

Verification of narrative perspectives with vertical lines

The technique of vertical narrative lines (described in the page "Verticals and Horizontal" shows that there are only four verticals connecting the faces of Gabriel and Marie with other points of the first rule. These vertical lines ( in pink) connect for Gabriel the point of the soul located on the earth horizon line with his left toe, his index finger with his knee. For Marie, his point of the soul is connected to his middle finger and his nose with his auricular.

Berruguete - Annunciation - Verification of the four horizon lines with the vertical lines

Three vertical composition lines are placed on the points of three horizon lines

In fact, this exploration of narrative perspectives could develop further with other elements as Berruguete linked everything in its composition. So I could evoke that the flight of the dove is parallel to the 45 ° line of the soul of Mary. Or that the 19 ° line of Gabriel's soul is the same as the earth horizon line.

There would be so many other elements as rich to develop in this composition which is both thorough and masterful ...

1: Jean-Yves Cordier's blog: -burgos.html

2: This practice of nail planting to trace a perspective has been demonstrated in particular with Vermeer's paintings at the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin, work by Wayne Franits.

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 © guymauchampU79J1B9 and a deposit at SGDL Paris.