Rembrandt, Robinson, and ‘that’ invisible triangle

the everlasting triangle

The triangle form of composition has forever dominated the realm of visual arts. But why? It gives the scene a visual balance based on which the central subject is able to draw the viewer’s concentration. Consequently, when the observer looks at the piece of work, their eyes will automatically be drawn towards the inner region of the triangle. Portraits have traditionally used this composition form to evoke the personality of the subject. Consider the work below by the great Rembrandt van Rijn.

Self-portrait, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1632

Rembrandt composes himself in a manner that resembles a triangle. If the triangle was visible, it would look like this,

The composition motivates the viewer to forget the two zones on the two sides of the subject and instead concentrate on the middle internal segment. Rembrandt’s use of the triangle form of composition has also been conspicuous in other forms of scenes. For instance, The Night Watch considered one of the greatest paintings ever, uses this form to inject a sense of motion into this otherwise static group portrait.

La ronda de noche, por Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642

The viewer might notice the tilts of the heads of the people on the two sides of the central subject. They play crucial participation in evoking the sense of a triangular composition.

The men along the left edge of the triangle have their heads tilted slightly towards their left. Contrastively, the man along the right edge of the triangle has his head inclined on his right. Moreover, the placement of the characters contributes as well towards this triangular composition.

From Painting to Photography – Henry Peach Robinson

In the early decades of the 19th century, when photography was gradually taking birth, the initial masters who concretized this new artform were inspired by the aesthetics of painting. Within this group was Henry Peach Robinson. Robinson adopted the traditional triangle form of composition to create remarkable portraits. An example of such is below.

Robinson, Henry Peach – Auf’s Boot wartend, 1864-66

The composition style enables the subjects to fully reveal the different dimensions of their personalities. The application of the invisible triangle can be understood below.

Robinson used this nature of composition not just for his many portraits. He extended this arrangement to his external scenes which evoke a blissful slice of life narrative. An example of such is A Holiday in the Wood.

Holiday in the Woods, Henry Peach Robinson,1860

The positioning and postures of the characters enable the development of a triangular composition that separates the central segment of the scene from the two external regions. The viewer can realize that the characters on the two sides are not supposed to be the central subjects of the composition. The two women on the left do not face the camera. Additionally, the two children on the right are located much farther away from the central area of the scene. Moreover, the characters situated internal to the triangle sit in such a manner that paves the way for a triangular form. They even form two distinctive levels as Robinson sharply distinguishes the foreground from the middle ground.

Artists of the new medium of photography thus established its initial concepts by attaining influences from the much more mature medium of painting. These concepts of traditional visual arts paved the way for photography’s maturity, as modern photographers created new norms by breaking these older rules.


henry peach robinson’s gossip on the beach

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