Picture plane

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In painting, photography and graphical perspective, a picture plane is a plane which is located between the "eye point" or Oculus and the object being viewed, and upon which an image of the object is painted, drawn, or photographed. It is ordinarily a vertical plane perpendicular to the sightline to the object of interest.

Picture plane[edit]

In painting the picture plane refers to the flat surface of the canvas or the physical material onto which the paint is applied. It generally refers to the front of the surface image, especially in the case of illusionary depth, although it can also refer to the picture's ground. The illusion of depth and three dimensionality that accompanies certain types of pictures is described as penetrating the picture plane.

In photography the physical surface of a print can be thought of as the manifestation of its picture plane. The position of the camera at the time of image capture is the station point, and the edges of the camera's field of view create the imaginary borders of the picture plane, finally translating to the physical edges of a photographic print.


In the technique of graphical perspective the picture plane has several features:

Given are an eye point O (from Oculus), a horizontal plane of reference called the ground plane γ and a picture plane π... The line of intersection of π and γ is called the ground line and denoted GR. ... the orthogonal projection of O upon π is called the principal vanishing point P...The line through P parallel to the ground line is called the horizon HZ[1]

The horizon frequently features vanishing points of lines appearing parallel in the foreground.

Integrity of the picture plane[edit]

A well-known phrase has accompanied many discussions of painting during the period of modernism.[2] Coined by the influential art critic Clement Greenberg in his essay called "Modernist Painting", the phrase "integrity of the picture plane" has come to denote how the flat surface of the physical painting functions in older as opposed to more recent works. That phrase is found in the following sentence in his essay:

"The Old Masters had sensed that it was necessary to preserve what is called the integrity of the picture plane: that is, to signify the enduring presence of flatness underneath and above the most vivid illusion of three-dimensional space."

Greenberg seems to be referring to the way painting relates to the picture plane in both the modern period and the "Old Master" period.[3]

See also[edit]