City Perspectives

posted in: Blog | 8

Ancient Roman artists painted cities with a three dimensional feeling of space. The allure of layered cities with geometric volume has captivated artists for thousands of years. In the Renaissance Giotto tried building convincing city spaces but, without a firm understanding of vanishing point perspective. That came a bit later. After the mid 15th century any artist hoping for employment had to know the principles of linear perspective. With this knowledge artists could invent plausible cities.

Technology like the camera obscura offered new optical devices to capture and deliver convincing perspectives when rendering a city.  Canaletto and his nephew, Bellotto (example 1.) used the camera obscura to build convincing cityscapes. When the camera obscura lens curved some of the architectural lines linear perspective helped the artist to straighten them out.

Notice that we look up at Bellotto’s buildings but down to the Plaza and street.

Example 1.  Bernardo Bellotto, view of Dresden, 1752, The Kreuz Church in Dresden,

Artists could decide where to place their point of view or their camera obscura box to give a long flat sense of perspective as you see in example one. Or, they could elevate the device or raise the eye-level to give a higher feeling of elevation to the viewer. Artists still use these principles today. I have a diagram in example 2 which illustrates how this works.

Box I has a lower eye level while box II has a higher eye level. The width of the road at the ground plane (bottom of the picture) stays the same. Notice that trying to arrange to see the tops of buildings makes them appear more squat in Box I while we feel more opportunity for looking over taller buildings in Box II. Box II elevates the sensation of the viewer. I have two examples demonstrating this.

Example 2. A point of view diagram with demonstrations of lower and higher eye level effects using linear perspective.

Example 3 by Ben Aronoson looks up 5th Avenue using a higher eye level. The feeling of the painting is almost vertiginous. In Example 4 I also use a higher eye level to give the viewer the feeling of looking down upon the city and up the avenue.  My view looks uptown from the Manhattan Bridge in Manhattan.

Example 3. Ben Aronoson, Fifth Avenue, oil on panel.

Example 4. David Dunlop, looking up the East side of Manhattan from the Manhattan Bridge,

Example 5, “Times Square Effects” lowers the eye level a bit and broadens the scope of the plaza (roadway) to begin outside the frame. This lowers the viewer’s feeling of proximity to the roadway and increases foreshortening effects.

Examples 6 and 7 present two steps in the development of  ”Uptown Madison Avenue Bus”.  The bus looms large with its roof line descending to the eye level’s single vanishing point and its curb line ascending to the eye level’s single vanishing point. This makes us feel imminent approach of the bus. The bus is angled to increase the feeling of foreshortening.

Example 6, “Uptown Madison Avenue Bus”, oil on brushed silver Dibond, 24×24, step one.

Example 7. “Uptown Madison Avenue Bus”, step two, its present state,


8 Responses

  1. Ken Wright

    Thanks again! Explicit, simple , explanation for an artist’s essential handy-work.

    • dd_admin

      Ken, I know my replies are long in coming but, thank you for commenting. David

    • dd_admin

      Anthony, I paint mostly on enameled laminated aluminum panels now . In the trade they go by names like Omegabond, Durabond, Dibond, etc. Best, David

  2. Denise

    Another good one! I also loved the examples of Ben Aronson’s work in class today. His use of close up views with exaggerated or dramatic perspective were very effective at drawing the viewer in, plus those yellows and blues together! Beautiful. Thank you for all the time and effort you put into sharing all this knowledge with us!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *