Multiplicity and Unity

Focal points are the objects in images which catch our eyes and draw us in. Multiplicity means that there are many objects attracting or competing for our attention, and our eye constantly bounces from one to another. They compete for our attention due to high value, color, scale, or other spatial issues. Unity refers to a composition where there is one principal focal point. There is one protagonist or key object to which our eye continually returns.

Bellini’s St. Francis, Renaissance, contains many objects intriguing to look at. Our eye constantly travels from object to object across and into space: the saint, the ass, the weeds, the geological formations, shepherd tending to his flock, and castle up on the hill. As each is represented in a linear style, each is so perfectly and sharply defined so that each can stand of its own as an object to be looked at. Perhaps the eye does continually return to Francis, but only momentarily.

Caravaggio’s Entombment, Baroque, is an example of unity. Even though the detailing in each face is the naked truth and the muscles and movement beautifully correlate to the narrative, our eye continually returns to the body of Christ. He is the focal point with the high value spotlight on His body, large scale, and location closest to us, near the baseline. We focus on His face, arms, legs, and flesh. No matter what else is in the painting, Christ steals the show.