The Renaissance Period has gifted the world with many beautiful and monumental works of art and has pioneered many techniques in painting, architecture, and sculpture. Renaissance art presents itself as superior and surprising as well as amazing the viewer with nearly photographic accuracy and ambiance of the drawings, which were preserved throughout the ages. One of the techniques developed during the early Renaissance period that continued well into the High Renaissance and beyond was the technique of the Illusion of Space. It is a drawing technique, which makes the viewer think that the two-dimensional drawing is three-dimensional and that there is space behind and around the people and objects depicted in the foreground (Raynaud 2016). One of the most famous pictures to use this effect to create volume and depth is the Last Supper, created by Leonardo Da Vinci in 1495 – 1498, which marked the beginning of the High Renaissance in art. Leonardo Da Vinci did not invent the technique, however, and relied on the work of Massacio, also known as Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, and his famous fresco, The Holy Trinity.
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Massacio’s Holy Trinity was painted in 1424, in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. The fresco depicts Jesus Christ on a Cross, the Father, and the Holy Spirit standing behind him (Raynaud 2016). In this fresco, the artist used the one-point linear perspective to convey to the viewers that there is actual space behind in the background behind the objects (Raynaud 2016). In doing so, he made the coffers form orthogonal lines with the vanishing point directly at the eye level of the viewer, which makes the audience believe that the space depicted on the fresco continues into the chapel (Raynaud 2016). Massacio focused greatly on the dimensions of each object, further magnifying the illusion by enabling the viewers to determine the dimensions of the room.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper depicts the last supper of Jesus Christ, surrounded by his apostles (King 2012). The viewer is given the narrative perspective to the scene, as the painting illustrates Christ’s revelation that one of the apostles is going to betray him. The hall, where the dinner is taking place, seems to be going further behind the figures, and towards the windows. At first glance, Leonardo’s painting is different from the work of Massacio in that it is drawn on a much wider area. In order to convene the illusion of space, Da Vinci uses the same one-point linear perspective technique that was invented in the Quattrocento, during which Massacio painted his frescos. In both works, Jesus is the center of the composition. However, if in Massacio’s case, the vanishing point was at the base of the cross, in Da Vinci’s work, it is behind his head. The orthogonal lines are also present and could be seen if one is to follow the tapestries located on the top of the wall, or the coffers, to the vanishing point, where they intersect at Christ (King 2012).
In conclusion, it could be said that in his creation of the Last Supper, Leonardo Da Vinci implemented a one-point linear perspective in order to create the illusion of space, which was initially pioneered by Massacio. This shows that Leonardo kept in touch with contemporary artists and was capable of understanding and replicating their techniques, in order to adapt them for his masterpieces.
King, Ross. 2012. Da Vinci and the Last Supper. New York: Bloomsbury.
Raynaud, Dominique. 2016. Studies on Binocular Vision: Optics, Vision, and Perspective from the Thirteenth to the Seventeenth Centuries. New York: Springer.