Brush up on your art vocabulary

Feb 1, 2010

When I teach drawing, I spend most of the time talking about perspective, which is the method used to create three-dimensional space on a flat surface.  Here are three terms on perspective that should be part of your art glossary.

Foreshortening is when the subject goes back into the picture plane and is perpendicular to the horizon line.  Art historians agree that the most famous work that exemplifies this is The Lamentation over the Dead Christ (1480) by Andrea Mantegna. 

Aerial Perspective (also called atmospheric perspective) is the visual effect of atmospheric haze in a painting or drawing.  The closer an object is to the horizon line, the more subdued the colors and contrast. If you were to look at a mountain range, for example, the mountain furthest away from the viewer is always the most muted.  The objects in the foreground, on the other hand, have the greatest contrast and hue intensity. 

Masaccio is attributed as being one of the key Renaissance artists (along with Leonardo di Vinci) that used aerial perspective in his works.  In his painting below, The Tribute Money (1427), you can see colors and details fade as they recede towards the horizon line. 

Chiaroscuro (kee-AR-o-SKOOR-o) is an Italian term that refers to the use of light and dark to create dimension in a painting or drawing.   Normally, chiaroscuro pertains to a dramatic contrast of light and dark, as seen in the works of Caravaggio and Rembrandt.  Below is one of Rembrandt's famous self-portraits. 


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