Investigating Aerial Perspective

Leonardo was fascinated by the atmosphere and by its effects on the colors and distinctness of distant objects. Though other artists had already begun to create some of these effects in their work, Leonardo was the first to make careful measurements and suggest rules for applying them realistically in painting. He called the subject aerial perspective.

In morning light Leonardo observed that distant objects such as mountains look bluer and less distinct than nearby mountains. He also noted that the more distant the mountain, the more its color approached that of the surrounding atmosphere.

His experiments suggested that to correctly color objects at different distances, artists should do as follows: Paint the nearest one its true color. Paint the one behind proportionately bluer, and the one behind that bluer still.

Thus if one is to be five times as distant, make it five times bluer. ~Leonardo

In this computer generated scene, the colors have been made the same for nearby and distant objects as if there were no atmospheric effects.

In painting the Virgin of the Rocks, Leonardo applied his understanding of aerial perspective to create the sense of mountains a great distance away.

What causes the haziness and blueness of distant objects?

Leonardo Homepage
Leonardo's Perspective

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