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I invented this notion of "narrative perspective" on the basis of concrete observations of Renaissance perspectives.

The art historian Daniel Arasse had the intuition of this pictorial technique which he called the immeasurable disorder of perspective (1 ) without however bringing tangible elements of demonstration (to my knowledge).

Anne Steinberg-Viéville (2) speaks of an unbridled perspective , made of voluntary errors in the construction of the perspective.

Sophie Guidon at the Louvre (3) puts forward the idea that painters play with perspective as in "Noces de Cana" by Véronèse, but based on a drawing that is false.

In fact of immeasurable disorder , or of unbridled perspective , it is possible to recompose, measure and order precisely the original idea of meticulous compositions of narrative perspective.

This specific technique included two, three, even four vanishing points, as in Botticelli's "The Virgin and Child" below.

Botticelli - Vierge à l'enfant - Petit

Botticelli - Madonna and Child - Petit Palais Avignon - The four focal points determining four horizon lines - Photo & traces © guymauchamp

With these multi-focal perspectives, the deliberate purpose of the painters is to create a feeling congruent with the theme of the work in order to give a glimpse of the unspeakable, the mystery, the miracle.

This is why this practical philosophy of the narrative perspective is found mainly in religious works.  

Why is the narrative perspective not known or seen? (in my opinion !)

First of all, you have to keep in mind a preliminary warning usual among archaeologists:

in the absence of prior knowledge and without modeling, we do not know what to look for!


Specifically, the knowledge that was lacking is that of the technique to find the narrative perspective and the knowledge of the rules of composition of painters.

This is why researchers who worked on old paintings to extract perspective techniques are sometimes victims of a common phenomenon of self-illusion. Indeed, having in mind that the vanishing lines theoretically leave from a single focal point, these people group in their reverse reconstructions all the vanishing lines on a single point that they have in fact imagined. The grouping of the vanishing lines on a single point is carried out without checking whether it precisely corresponds to the real perspective lines visible in the table.

In the case of the narrative perspective, that is to say multi-focal, it is for lack of precision and verification in their lines that some art researchers go astray.

In fact, the composition plots of Renaissance painters are most often very precise and rigorous.


Renaissance painters play between the perfect illusion of rendering space with its mono-focal perspective

and a perspective which is not technically perfect but which offers an apperception , a sensitive mystery.

How to define the narrative perspective?

It is indeed, with the multi-focal perspective, an aperception and not a perception. The illusion of a real space rendered thanks to the mono-focal linear perspective is usually well perceived by the spectator. On the other hand , the perceptual upheaval   created by the multi-focal perspective does not allow to recompose the illusion of a normal space in three dimensions.

Looking at a work in narrative perspective induces a subtle apperception, beyond the mind,

and which requires careful listening to the sensations it induces.

How to draw out the real lines of perspective?

The method to really find the perspective lines of a work is simple:

We must draw each line of flight blind!

It is with a computer that one can easily draw each of the vanishing lines one after the other without revealing the ones we have just drawn. Having no visual guide as to a line crossing, it is easier to rigorously trace each of them without being influenced . The lines must be as thin as possible and show the painted line of perspective.

It is only at the end of the tracks that we discover by displaying all the vanishing lines if they intersect at a single point or not.

Let us concretely see this method with the Annunciation of Raphael - 1504 - Vatican.

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Drawing of a first line of flight which we then hide ...

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until reveal   all the lines of leakage from the ground ...

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... to draw another without seeing the first. And so on,

Raphael, Annonciation, ligne de fuite "terre"

... which makes it possible to determine a horizon line.

These lines of flight from the ground (in green) are mono-focal, they meet at a central point, which makes it possible to determine a horizon line.


The same meticulous work continues for the sky lines, hiding the vanishing lines from the ground.

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Drawing of a first line of flight in height ...

Raphael, Annonciation, ligne de fuite "ciel"

... ditto as for the ground lines, drawn blindly ...

Raphaël, Annonciaton, lines of flight from perspective.

When the lines of flight appear, a central focal point is defined and allows a horizon line to be defined ... Except that two lines of leaks on the ground are evaded from this conventional technique : the two lines of flight located under Gabriel (pink lines below).

These two lines are different from all the others because they work with the first rule of composition : point the eye and the tip of the wing of the dove sent by God as well as the fingers of Gabriel. There is even what I call a marker on a point of Gabriel's clothing (see the red arrow) which indicates the importance of this narrative line.

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Raphaël - Annunciation - The spiritual lines of flight point the dove.

These pink lines carry a different message than that of the mono-focal perspective technique. The technique of linear perspective locates the scene in a human space , a representation of the same nature as that of the spectator. On the other hand, the exceptional lines in pink by pointing the dove, speak of another dimension, an immeasurable divine message, the Holy Spirit announced by Gabriel and which descends in Mary.

The crossing of the pink lines makes it possible to define a second horizon line which I propose to name spiritual horizon line .

It is interesting to observe the relation of these two horizon lines with the whole scene and the composition:

Raphaël - Annunciation - Perspective with a terrestrial horizon line and a spiritual horizon line.

The two vanishing points are placed in the center of the column symbolizing Christ according to Christian iconography (4). This pillar between the ground and the roof is symbolically the link between the earth and the sky and in the same way, the two vanishing points represent, in the center of this column, the terrestrial symbolism of this scene and the celestial symbolism of the Annunciation. The spiritual horizon line limits the top of the mountains, God and his dove are above, in immeasurable space.

The harmonic grid of the medians (5) indicates what was hardly distinguished before: this central column is not placed exactly in the geometric center of the format. This process, quite common in religious compositions, indicates that the earthly dimension is never perfect, and needs another dimension to find its balance, its completeness.

Finally to finish with this limpid composition by Raphaël, let's check again if these recomposed lines are not the fruit of my imagination. For that I have the other rules and techniques of composition to install congruence:

Raphaël - Annonciation - Deux lignes d'horizon et médianes congruentes avec les mesures dorées et la ligne de regard de Dieu

The golden measures (6) are shown here in yellow. Very clearly, as often in Raphael's compositions, we see that the golden relationship punctuates the composition with the median and the two horizon lines, and also in the symbolic gestures of God and Mary.

The measurement between the terrestrial line and the spiritual line, of value 1, is that of the dove and the distance between the index pointed to the sky of Mary and her eye.

The measurement between the index pointed to heaven by God and his eye is that of Phi, or 0.618 = the golden ratio.

The measurement between the land line and the median is 1 + Phi

The measurement between the median and the base of the Christ column is 2 + Phi.

The presence of these golden measures and their assignment in the composition are completely congruent with the theme of the Annunciation.

Finally, the line of gaze (7) of the soul of God (in red) points to the eye of its dove and a preferential angle of gaze at 45 ° (in orange) points to the line of spiritual horizon on the edge of the format.

Here again, the line of sight technique is congruent with the theme of the Annunciation and confirms the previous lines of this demonstration of narrative perspective.

1: Daniel Arasse - The Italian Annunciation; a story of perspective - 2010 - Hazan, Paris,

2: The Louvre video shows vanishing points from Veronese's "Noce de Cana" which are not fair. There is in fact no horizon, not even a vanishing point in this empirical perspective. See


4: Since the ninth century, the column appears as one of the known symbols of Christ: Columna is Christus , "Christ is a column". The column as a link between earth and sky, symbol of the eternal as it is already there.

5: see the chapter on Harmonic grids , composition technique

6: see the chapter on Golden Measures , composition rule

7: see the chapter on lines of sight , composition rule

The continuation of the narrative perspective:

This first approach is only an overview of the different aspects of the narrative perspective.

To find out more with Fra ANGELICO and Paolo UCCELLO, go to page:

Narrative perspective part 2

Work protected by copyright © guymauchamp U79J1B9 and a deposit at SGDL Paris.

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