Even before becoming a professional whose work revolves around plants and pavers, I’ve always had an interest in perspective. Not only perspective in relation to depicting space, but also perception in connection to the historical and theoretical. As landscape designers we create digital perspectives regularly, but long ago it was the great English landscape designer of the eighteenth century and his Humphry Repton’s Red Books that created some of the first “Before” and “After” imagery of landscape. Reston used folded paper and illustrations to create these visual changes in perspective, one of many ways designers have utilized perspective as a tool throughout history, whether visually or theoretically.
Looking at the history of perspective from the viewpoint of mathematics or geometry leads us to the theories related to accurately representing scale. Early paintings and drawings such as Egyptian art were depicted as flat images, with depth simply represented by an overlap of subjects in relation to one another. The size of each figure was used to generally show the importance of royalty and mythical characters rather than accurately represent perspective.
It was only when Euclidian geometry became adopted around 4BC that perspective in art emerged as a visual tool to communicate scale, distance, and size . Artists were then capable of rendering buildings with figures to show perspective. Example include Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Annunciation 1344 and Giotto’s Christ Before Caiaphas of 1305, both combining flat renderings of figures with dimensional backgrounds.
With the the Renaissance arrived new algebraic and geometric theories to help usher in advancements in optics and perspective. 15th century Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi was of one the first to rigorously incorporate perspective into art and architecture, most notably with his Dome of Florence. We still use the same methods of perspective Brunelleschi used back then today.
One of my personal favorite use of perspective was done by Flemish painter Jan Van Eyck in his oil painting, the Arnolfini Portrait. Van Eyck painstakingly rendered a mirror in the background of the two figures to depict an almost 5 point perspective, revealing a view normally never seen. As landscape designers an appreciation for perspective throughout the ages – whether in art or design – helps us recognize how we the see the world has evolved alongside the tools of how to depict our visions.