His Feet Seem to Grow Into His Neck

15 May 2012

Imagine life with no television, no computers, and where books are a rarity. The power of art would increase exponentially because you wouldn't be inundated with visual images all the time. The handful of artworks you might see in your entire life would really make an impact. That's pretty much what life was like for people alive during the Renaissance. Seeing an altarpiece painting or ceiling fresco was like entering a different world--and artists were well aware of the suggestive power they wielded, actively pursuing ways to enhance the realism of their images.

The Dead Christ by Andrea Mantegna, 1460, tempera on canvas.
The Dead Christ by Andrea Mantegna, 1460, tempera on canvas.
One of the ways artists made their works more realistic to their viewers was with linear perspective. With one-point perspective, two-point perspective, and three-point perspective, artists dramatically increased the realism of the scenes they were painting by playing with the sense of space in their works and the illusion of distance and depth.

Foreshortening was a significant byproduct of these perspective drawing explorations. Using foreshortening allowed an artist to paint an object to look like it is angled to the viewer. As a result the object seems closer and the distance between it and the viewer seems less than it actually is. The illusion that the viewer and object are in the same space is created.

Imagine looking at Andrea Mantegna's Dead Christ for the first time; you feel like you are literally standing at the feet of the figure of Christ. That would have been a powerful moment for a viewer who may have never seen an artwork using foreshortening before. That's why linear perspective was lauded as such a coup by the artists of the day. It allowed painters to pull viewers into a painting and set a whole new standard for how artists could render realism.

If you want to evolve your artistic capabilities much like the Renaissance masters of the past, perspective drawing lessons are essential. Fortunately we have a resource that is tailored specifically toward the goals and interests of artists. Perspective Made Simple explores how to draw perspective dynamically and easily, and the payoff is creating convincing works of art that make us all feel like we are entering a different world, just like those viewers centuries ago. What a gift! Enjoy!

 


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Comments

Kellam Brown wrote
on 19 May 2012 9:34 AM

I don't understand why this painting is cited so frequently as an example of effective foreshortening when it is actually an example of several things to NOT do in order to create perspective in a figurative image.  Some aspects of the painting do work well to create a sense of viewing the reclining body from the feet for example: 1)  the alignment of the parts of the body suggest the direction of view by shortening the distance from the feet to the face; 2)  the lower side of the body parts such as the soles of the feet and the underside of the chin are depicted in proper orientation; 3) the folds of the drape follow the contour of the body correctly; 4) overlap is used effectively to indicate the relative position of the anatomical masses (such as in the arms).  The problems lie in the aspect most frequently cited as an example: 1) there is no decreasing size of body parts as they recede from the viewer, most noticeably, the feet are no larger than the head or the hands, making the body appear distorted with a giant head and very large hands; 2) the near and far parts of the body and drapes are painted with the same precision of focus, ignoring the depth of field effect (this was rarely noted in paintings until the 19th century, perhaps the effect of photography); 3) the size of the feet, shoulders, and other anatomy, relative to the correctly depicted one-point perspective shape of the slab is not effective to establish the figure and the slab as residing in the same perspective space; 4)  the heads of the mourners seem to be floating in space because there is very little obvious relationship of their images to the figure (there very slight overlap at the elbow of the Christ figure, however that is closer to a tangent than an overlap).  

All of these issues were typical of techniques for depicting depth in painting before the mid to late 15th century when foreshortening began to be more systematically understood and employed.  While there are valid examples in this painting of various techniques for depicting depth and form, I see no reason to cite this painting as an example of effective application of foreshortening.

CMElli wrote
on 19 May 2012 12:43 PM

As a student delving into the figure painting world... I would agree with Kellam's comments.This is not the best example of foreshortening.