A Timeline: Four Centuries of Perspective

Follow this timeline to explore four centuries of experimentation in perspective theory and spatial illusion. Click images in the timeline for more.

Leon Battista Alberti composes the De pictura (On Painting), the first text to define and theorize linear perspective.

The visual pyramid What is Alberti's visual pyramid?

What is linear perspective?

Portrait of Paolo Uccello

Late 1400s
The artist Paolo Uccello devotes so much time to his "mistress" perspective, that his wife is reported to have become jealous.

German artist Albrecht Dürer brings the science of perspective to Northern Europe through his illustrated treatise Unterweisung der Messung.

Draftsman of the Lute (detail)
Surveying device

The 16th century sees the development of complex perspective machines, like this one by Baldassarre Lanci.

Illusionistic ceilings, like this one, probably for the Church of San Pietro al Po near Cremona in Northern Italy, enjoy a vogue from the 16th through 18th centuries. They seem to extend the space of the church beyond the ceiling.

Study for a ceiling
Pour trouver le racourcissement (How to achieve foreshortening)

A scandal erupts in France when Jean Dubreuil is accused by his colleague Girard Desargues of plagiarizing his theories and committing "enormous mistakes and falsehoods."

The production of miniature paper theaters brings three-dimensional, illusionistic entertainment into middle-class homes.

Praesentation eines angenehmen Lusthauses (Presentation of a pleasant garden pavilion)

Whoever Makes a Design without the Knowledge of Perspective Will Be Liable to such Absurdities as are Shown in this Frontispiece Where has the perspective gone awry?

With a series of visual puns, Hogarth describes the many possible mistakes that the painter may make when disregarding the application of perspective.

Descriptive geometry, pioneered by Gaspard Monge, comes into its own as a scientific application of perspective projections distinct from artistic applications.

Descriptive geometry

Abstraction turning into a carnation flower What is anamorphosis?

With irregular perspective already the fashion among artists and theorists, anamorphosis reaches its apex as a popular curiosity, with people of all social classes delighting in the bizarre and the marvelous.

Early 1800s
Andrea Pozzos 17th-century treatise still poses challenges to artists like Elie-Honoré Montagny, who quipped on this sheet that Pozzo "demands great application in the correct execution of this exercise, which is a very difficult one."

Compare Montagny and Pozzo Compare this to its model.