Teachers Lesson Plans

An Introduction to Pictorial Space


  • Sienese artist Simone Martini paints St. Catherine of Alexandria on a wood panel. This work is created without perspective. Space is suggested only by the contours made with subtle gradations and shades; the golden background rules out any link to an earthly place, in accordance with the religious art conventions of the time.


  • Florentine architect and sculptor Filippo Brunelleschi is the first person to make experiments that lead to the “rediscovery” of linear perspective—one of the main characteristics of Renaissance art.


  • In his treatise Della Pittura, Florentine architect and man of letters Leon Battista Alberti is the first person to suggest a rigorous construction method for perspective.


  • Florentine artist Piero di Cosimo paints Vulcan and Aeolus on a canvas. This work is a good example of space created by using “foreshortening” and atmospheric perspective.


  • Dutch artist Jacob Jordaens paints As the Old Sing, So the Young Pipe on a canvas. In this work, an object on the table reflects a window, which brings light into the painting. That is a good example of light used to give the illusion of space.


  • Artist Emanuel de Witte’s A Sermon in the Old Church in Delft is a typical example of the interest in paintings of architectural perspective and trompe-l’œil effects.


  • Meindert Hobbema paints Two Water-mills. This work is a spatial construction with two vanishing points. It depicts a charming hamlet opening out into the vast panorama of a Dutch landscape. In his landscapes, this artist brilliantly uses perspective effects.


  • Venetian painter Canaletto creates St. Mark’s and the Clock Tower, Venice. This artist began painting his “vedute” around 1723 and was very popular with wealthy travelers wishing to bring back a particularly striking vision of their trip as a souvenir.


  • The availability of wide-angle lenses and cameras in general influenced the depiction of space for many artists.
  • Japanese prints are introduced to Paris by two newly opened stores. These works have a great influence on the depiction of space by the Impressionists, especially through the use of close-ups and certain pictorial conventions.


  • Through a series of paintings, Impressionist Claude Monet captures a subject under various weather conditions and at different moments of the day. Waterloo Bridge: the Sun in a Fog, painted in 1902, is a good example of the artist’s tireless interest in the light and its fleeting effects.
© Claude Monet Estate / ADAGP (Paris) / SODRAC (Montreal)


  • Precursor of cubism, Paul Cézanne paints his portraits as if they are still lifes (e.g. Portrait of a Peasant, circa 1900). He develops a remarkable perspective technique that greatly influences 20th-century painting.


  • Pablo Picasso meets Georges Braque in Paris. Together, they discover the potential of depicting nature using simple geometrical forms, and invent Cubism. Their experiments are based on the integration of numerous perspectives in one single work. Picasso’s The Small Table, painted in 1919, is a good example of this technique.
© Pablo Picasso Estate (Paris) / SODRAC (Montreal)


  • Piet Mondrian moves to Paris and takes interest in Matisse and Cubism. His still lifes become increasingly abstract, as shown in Composition No. 12 with Blue. His works have a great influence on 20th-century non-representational painting.
Piet Mondrian, Composition No. 12 with Blue, 1942 © BEELDRECHT (Amsterdam) SODART (Montreal) 2003