The Inverse Perspective in Byzantine Painting

The Inverse Perspective in Byzantine Painting

By Maria Urmă

ANASTASIS. Research in Medieval Culture and Art, Volume 1, Number 1, 2014

Miniature of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118)

Abstract: The inverse perspective is a method of representing spatial depth used only in Byzantine painting. It is different from Renaissance perspective (a method of realistic, conventional, subjective, subject to a single point of view). The inverse perspective, with two-dimensional axonometric representations, is more complex, offering multiple possibilities of symbolization.

Various theories have considered either optical-geometric aspect or artistic-cultural aspect as the main factors that generated it. But they have not led to a unified conclusion. This study highlights the common elements of these theories, bringing together the two issues and providing a philosophical-religious interpretation.

Introduction: The representations of the Byzantine painting are different from the usual ones: spatial depth and objects’ tridimensionality are obtained differently compared to the direct perspective. Representations comparable to those in the Byzantine painting appeared in other periods too (Ancient Egypt, the 20th century BC) by resorting to bidimensionality. But the inverse perspective method appeared only during the Byzantine period.

What does this method consist of? At a simple look at the Byzantine painting, one may notice that the tridimensionality of objects is rendered through a procedure which is in opposition to the direct perspective. Whereas the vanishing point in the direct perspective is within the space of the painting, thus the represented space inviting us in-depth, in the Byzantine painting the vanishing point is in the space of the onlooker, not of the painting, and the convergence of lines lies outside the area of the painting.

Click here to read this article from Anastasis

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

Smartphone and Tablet users click here to sign up for
our weekly email

Malcare WordPress Security