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Vertical and horizontal lines

The vertical line and the horizontal are imposed on us by our notion of balance.

Paul Sérusier - ABC of painting - 1921

Leonardo da Vinci describes this technique of composition lines in the notebook in chapter 38 of the Treatise on painting :


" you have to hold in your hand a wire with a hanging plumb to see the parts

that meet on the same line "

As Paul Sérusier, a friend of Gauguin, says, by virtue of our human stature, the vertical conditions both our sight and our thought.

In addition, in a work drawn inside a square or rectangular format, the edges of the frame particularly influence our vision. This is why painters pay particular attention to these vertical and horizontal lines.

A simple plumb line makes it possible to trace them and for our research, to bring them back into evidence in the composition. The use of this tool placed in front of a work makes it possible not to be distorted by this same work on computer whose photos are very often distorted by the optics.

Recherche de lignes verticales avec un

Plumb line vertical line search -

Uffizi Florence - Stock Photo Marie Fleith.

How do vertical and horizontal work ?  

It is again with the help of the first rule of composition that the reference points, eyes, index, thumbs, heel, nose, mouth, etc. are linked by vertical lines and horizontal lines.

These lines of composition appear in purple on the Virgin on the Rock by Leonardo Da Vinci. They closely link the actions of the four characters.

DeVINCI Virgin on the Rock, Analysis of vertical and horizontal

Léonard De VIinci - The virgin on the rock (detail) - 1486 - Louvre - photo traces © gm

DADDI Crucifixion Analysis of composition lines

Daddi - Cruxifiction - 1325 - National galerie

The narrative sense with Gustave Courbet  

These lines of composition are not just a simple aesthetic rule. They can take on a narrative meaning as soon as the painter composes them in relation to the theme of his work.


So with these young ladies of the Seine by Gustave COURBET, the general theme would be calm and rest. Now it turns out that there are only horizontal lines and no vertical line that can meet the rule of narrative lines.

  This choice of horizontal composition seems to support the feeling of rest and tranquility.

COURBET, Demoiselles bord seine, analysis of horizontal composition

Gustave Courbet - Young ladies on the banks of the Seine - 1857 - Petit Palais - photo plots © gm

with Rogier Van Der Weyden

The verticals start from the angel's reference points to pass through the eyes and fingers of Mary and Jesus.


Some of these verticals point up to three points, which again leaves little room for doubt.

This composition seems to illustrate the biblical word announcing that what is in heaven and what is on earth. With these verticals, the sky-earth link is obvious here.

Van Der WEYDEN composition with narrative verticals

Rogier Van Der Weyden - Madona Duran - 1440 - Prado

With Lucas Cranach

This master of the German Renaissance perfectly illustrates the idea of ​​relating the 12 symbolic points of the characters' bodies on vertical and horizontal lines (first rule of composition).


With this small panel by Lucas Cranach, the plumb line falls without state of mind from the eye of the woman in the middle on the index finger of the woman on the right, then on the navel, then the knee and finally the toe . Or five points aligned on the same line.

The composition produced with this narrative vertical leaves little room for chance!


The vertical lines from the eyes and fingers condition many other points of the three women. These relationships rather evoke sensuality and sexuality.

Lucas CRANACH Les 3 grâces, Composition analysis with vertical and horizontal

Lucas Cranach - The Three Graces - 1530 - Louvre -

photo plots © gm

With Rogier Van Der Weyden

With this entombment of Christ by Rogier Van Der Weyden, the many horizontal and vertical lines condition the points of the first rule as well as several details of the decor.

Van der WEYDEN, Entombment, Analysis of vertical and horizontal

Rogier Van Der Weyden - Entombment - 1450 - Offices.

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.


Guy Mauchamp


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

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