Plane vs. Recession

Spatial projection across and into space is the issue in this pair. Plane means that everything in the work of art goes across the surface of the canvas or paper, generally, from left to right. Recession means that objects move in or out of space, generally along diagonals or orthogonals from the baseline into the depths of the image to the vanishing point on the horizon. A planar composition does not allow the view to enter; a recessional composition draws the view back into its distance, up to the horizon.

An example of plane is Eakin’s Biglin Brothers Racing. The racers, double skulls, riverbank, far trees, and cumulus clouds all float from left to right straight across the picture plane. There are no orthogonals that lead our gaze backward, slicing through the horizontals which float from left to right.  From the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, is an example of a planar composition. The table is set up parallel to and across the surface of the painting, and the thirteen men are all seated in a row on the far side, again, to be read from left to right.

An example of recession is Velazquez’s Las Meninas, of the Baroque era. The figures up front are casually arranged. Our eyes do not read them from left to right, but first focus on the princess, then the others, back and forth. The painter is slightly behind and to the left with an implied sense of asymmetry in relation to the placement of figures. The orthogonals in the wall at right lead our eye to the back wall and either up the brightly illuminated stairwell at right or to the shimmering rectangular image of a man and woman decorating the back wall. Velazquez lead the viewer in and out, back and forth through the painting. We have entered that room.