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(fôr-shôr'tn, for-) pronunciation
tr.v., -ened, -en·ing, -ens.
1. To shorten the lines of (an object) in a drawing
or other representation so as to produce an illusion
of projection or extension in space.
2. To reduce the length of; curtail or abridge.
The Use of Foreshortening in Art
When an artist paints a 3-Dimensional object onto a flat 2-Dimensional canvas, it is necessary for the artist to illustrate the depth of the object to the viewer.
The artist must use visual effects or ‘optical illusions’ to allow you, the viewer, to see an object as having depth and perspective.
This famous image by Leonardo Da Vinci 'Vitruvian Man' is a study of the 'perfect' dimensions of the human figure. The figure has outstretched arms and legs of 'ideal' dimensions. Both arms and both legs have been rendered as being of equal length, as you might expect. And at a glance, it is possible for the viewer to tell instantly (and without thought) that the figure has his arms and legs stretched out sideways.
Study the image of Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa’ above. It appears perfectly natural. But look at the arms closely; the right arm is distinctly shorter than the left.
Is this because the Mona Lisa had one arm shorter than the other? Or did Da Vinci make a mistake in his rendering of this 3D dimensional subject? Of course not! Da Vinci used ‘Foreshortening’ to create an illusion of a third dimension; a sense of depth.
This optical illusion has been employed by Da Vinci to illustrate to you, the viewer, that the Mona Lisa’s left arm is folded across her body while her right arm is placed coming forward, towards the viewer. By shortening the length of the right arm, the artist creates the illusion of the arm coming to the fore.Foreshortening in art is something that we, as viewers, can all see and subconciously ‘understand’ immediately.
However, as an artist, working in 2 dimensions on paper or canvas, foreshortening (as well as other techniques that create perspective) is a technique that can be difficult to apply and must be well thought out to create realistic depth in an image.To quote the dictionary definition above, when an artist works in with 2 dimensional media, foreshortening is used “ 1. To shorten the lines of (an object) in a drawing or other representation so as to produce an illusion of projection or extension in space.