Aerial Perspective – History, Advantages and Representatives

What is Aerial Perspective?

Aerial perspective, also called atmospheric perspective, is a method of creating the illusion of depth, or recession, in a painting or drawing by modulating color to simulate the changes effected by the atmosphere on the colors of things seen from a distance.

In this sense, the degree of dispersion depends on the wavelength, corresponding to the color, of the light. Because short wavelength light, which is blue light, is the most scattered, and the colors of all distant dark objects tend to blue.

For example, distant mountains have a bluish hue. Whereas, long wavelength light, red light, is the least scattered. Thus, distant bright objects appear redder because some of the blue is scattered and lost by the light in which they are viewed.

History of Aerial Perspective

The use of aerial perspective has been known since antiquity, and it was Leonardo da Vinci who first used it by coining the term aerial perspective in his treatise on painting, in which he wrote that, colors weaken in proportion to the distance from the person looking at them.

Later, it was discovered that the presence in the atmosphere of moisture, dust particles and similar materials, causes a dispersion of light as it passes through. The intermediate atmosphere between a viewer and, for example, distant mountains, creates other visual effects that can be imitated by landscape painters.

Types of Aerial Perspective

There are two types of perspective that artists use when painting and drawing. Aerial perspective is one and is described as the use of gradations in color and definition to suggest distance.

The other, linear perspective, is what is called the use of parallel lines converging at the horizon to convey depth.

Aerial Perspective combines four key elements to create the illusion of depth and distance in a landscape, these elements are specified below:

-The size of objects becomes smaller the farther they are from the viewer.

-The details of objects decrease the farther they are from the viewer.

-The tones of objects become weaker the farther they are from the viewer.

-The colors of objects begin to fade the farther they are from the viewer.

This is a simple lesson that demonstrates the visual impact of aerial perspective, hence, it teaches students to build a layered landscape drawing while using graduated tones and colors to convey the illusion of depth and distance.

What is Aerial Perspective

Characteristics of Aerial Perspective

Atmosphere causes distant shapes to have less sharp edges and contours than shapes close to the viewer, and interior details are similarly softened or blurred.

Distant objects appear somewhat lighter than similarly toned objects closer, and in general contrasts between light and shadow appear less extreme at greater distances. All of these effects are more evident at the base of a mountain than at its summit, since the density of the intermediate atmosphere is greater at lower elevations.

The intermediate atmosphere between a viewer and, for example, distant mountains creates other visual effects that can be mimicked by landscape painters. Atmosphere causes distant shapes to have less defined edges and contours than shapes close to the viewer, and interior details are similarly softened or blurred.

Distant objects appear somewhat lighter than similarly toned objects closer, and in general contrasts between light and shadow appear less extreme at greater distances. All of these effects are more evident at the base of a mountain than at its summit, since the density of the intermediate atmosphere is greater at lower elevations.

Legacy of this painting 

Atmospheric or aerial perspective consists of creating the illusion of depth by using gradations of tones or colors that fade with distance, and plays with the effects of contrast between the planes of the painting.

This type of perspective painting appeared in the early 15th century among the Flemish masters of northern Europe, thanks to the development of oil painting. Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441) was undoubtedly the first great painter to use atmospheric perspective. But, more than any other, Leonardo da Vinci contributed to the development of this technique.

Main representatives of this painting

One of the representative techniques of aerial perspective was the sphumato technique of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), who embodied the perfect ideal of the Renaissance, combining all talents with genius. In painting, he developed the sfumato, intended to produce very subtle models, particularly in the representation of the human face (The Mona Lisa). Sfumato can be defined as a vaporous modeling that imperceptibly changes color or tone from light to dark.

This subtle play of light and shadow is obtained by superimposing several layers of glaze (transparent colors), and the work appears to be bathed in a light mist as if seen through a veil. Through this technique, also known as chiaroscuro, the artist can suggest effects of relief or depth. Obsessed with the pursuit of perfection, da Vinci never stopped delving into his art, as shown in his Saint John the Baptist, created at the end of his life.

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