Painting Before Perspective

 Before the advent of perspective, it was generally accepted that the function of art was not naturalistic representation, but rather the expression of spiritual power.  Artists tended to portray importance through size.  An example is the mosaic shown in Fig. 2.

Fig. 2 – A mosaic with Christ made very large,
taken from scenes of the Last Judgement.
Notice the small figures near the feet of Christ.

 A turning towards scientific naturalism began to appear with some force from the late thirteenth century onwards.  The most striking examples of this newly naturalistic style are in the work of Giotto di Bondone (1266 – 1337).  An example is his work “Joachim comes to the shepherds’ hut”, based on the story of Joachim and Anna (Fig. 3).  The human and animal figures are all to scale, but the landscape has been shown rather small.  It is clear that the picture is not shown in the correct perspective.


Fig. 3 – Giotto’s “Joachim comes to the shepherds’ hut”. 
Fresco, Arena chapel, Padua.

Experts believe that Giotto is not constructing a landscape, but providing a landscape setting for the people in his story.  Simple naturalism has taken second place to the demands of story telling.