Perspective drawing, both one point and two point, is taught by most, if not all, art teachers. In my experience as a K-12 art teacher, I decided it was important for students to learn not only the techniques of “how” to draw in one-point perspective, but for them to learn the basic history of these drawing techniques, how they came about, who used them, and why they’re important, as well.
For art teachers, the following is a basic history of one point (linear) perspective drawing, which can be adapted and used in any art class (elementary, junior high or high school) in a general introduction to drawing techniques:
What Artists Did Before Perspective Drawing was Developed – Long before the concept of linear, one, and two point perspective drawing was developed, artists of the past would simply draw objects (or people) in a painting larger than other objects, in order to show their overall importance to the subject matter. While this effectively implied the message they wanted to send in their artwork, the technique did not show a great amount of realism.
At the beginning of the Renaissance, artists began to desire a greater realism in their artworks, especially while drawing architecture, exterior and interior spaces. In the 1300’s, a simple kind of perspective was used by the Italian artists Giotto and the Lorenzetti brothers to create the visual illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional (flat) surface – that the appearance of things grows smaller as they go further back in the distance.
Philosophers of this time believed that ‘Man is the measure of all things“, so this led them to the invention of a mathematical system based on proportions of the human body to enable artists to use perspective.
Brunelleschi’s One-Point Invention – This method, known as mathematical, linear or Renaissance perspective, was first demonstrated by Filippo Brunelleschi around 1413-1420. Through a series of visual experiments, including tracing reflections on mirrors, he developed his theories and understanding of perspective drawing. Years later in 1435, Leon Battista Alberti published a paper about linear perspective, making it a standard of drawing that all artists at the time would use.
In the theory, a one-eyed viewer (two eyes would slightly change the perception of depth) was to stand a certain distance away from a work, dead center and stay there. From this fixed viewpoint, everything appeared to recede into the distance at the same rate, shaped by lines called “orthogonals” or “convergence lines” that met at a single vanishing point on the horizon line. The point of the convergence lines is to shorten distant objects, creating the optical illustion that things grow smaller and closer together as they get farther away.
The amount of vanishing points in an artwork determines whether it called one point, two point, three point, etc.
Perspective Drawing Gains Popularity Throughout Europe – After learning Brunelleschi’s technique, Renaissance artists became fascinated with drawing geometric shapes and images like tile floors, large buildings and interior rooms, which would show off their one and two point perspective drawing skills.
Early Renaissance artists following Alberti’s theory relied on many methods – some constructed devices with peepholes, through which they could look out; others created mathematical formulas to help them figure out measurements; others created grids to provide reference points.
One artist, Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) was said to be so obsessed with one point perspective that he talked about it in his sleep until his wife accused him of having a mistress named “Perspective.”
Soon, artists began to adopt multiple, complex viewpoints and we then were given 2-point perspective, 3-point perspective, aerial perspective and more. Today, perspective is still widely used in drafting and artwork. The benefits of drawing in one and two point perspective are enormous – they have the advantage of making the viewer feel a direct, physical connection to the picture space, creating a very real sense of depth.
Oxford Reference Online
Paolo Uccello: Biography
Filippo Brunelleschi: Biography
Museum of Science and Industry- Reverspective: History
Key Innovations and Artists of the Italian Renaissance – Eyecon Art