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Perspective.  How the spatial relationships of a three-dimensional scene or object is expressed on a coin or medal design. This includes the line of sight, the angle or view of vision, and the illusion of depth. Most coin and medal designs are created in linear perspective, a straight on, frontal, single view of the person, scene or object. Every designer must be very obvious in his choice of perspective, as this will influence his design more than any technique or treatment other than the choice of his subject. Any design other than this front view, eye level design is called a "change of perspective," some of which have formal names listed below, others are merely views from a different angle.

While the linear perspective is the standard, customary view – particularly for coin designs – medallic designs are not as restrictive. Medal designers have added interest with a variety of perspectives by changing the line of sight or the viewer's eye position. (In this regard the "change of perspective" can be compared to a camera which can be raised or lowered, or moved around for a different angle, or to move in closer, or to back away for a greater field of view.)

Several problems exist in coin and medal design. First, of course, is the extremely small size. For the artist this is a very small canvas to prepare his design. Second is the raised relief of the design, where everything must be expressed in such low relief (often a few thousandths of an inch). The use of any perspectives within these design constraints are the numismatic and medallic artist's most exacting design problems (and his greatest challenge!).

The kinds of perspective are:

= Linear perspective.  While standing, point your arm toward a scene or object (line of sight). What you see sighting down your arm is linear perspective. Should you photograph that scene or object, the image on the photo print would be a linear perspective. Another example is that of a scene or object viewed through a picture window. Linear perspective is that image that would appear on the window pane. This is also called picture plane.

The artist who chooses to do a mirror image of reality design must use this obvious perspective:  face on, eye level, front view, what you see is what you get in the design. In numismatics this is expressed as the frontal view – the full face, the facade of a building or the principal side of an object, its picture plane.

Linear perspective utilizes several artistic techniques, these include: foreshortening – closer things look bigger, distant things are correspondingly smaller. Foreshortening is far more evident when the depth of field is greater, as in scenes. In portraits and most devices it is hardly evident because the depth of field is not that deep.

Linear perspective makes dramatic use of the vanishing point – things at such a great distance will be so small as to vanish, as the railroad tracks come to a point and vanish in the distance. The medals of Jacques Wiener are the most obvious of this kind of perspective.

Linear perspective also makes use of the ground line – which is often the base line – and a horizon line, although these may, or may not, be expressed in any numismatic or medallic design.

It is very important to remember that in numismatic cataloging, linear perspective is considered to be the normal perspective. If the design is any other than that of linear, it must be so stated in the numismatic description.

=Aerial perspective.  An aerial view is that as seen from above, as from an airplane, looking down usually on some small geographical area. It is also called bird’s eye view, as if seen from the eye of a bird. The technique can give a lot of meaning to a number of buildings and has been widely used for World's Fairs since 1851.

Blueprints have a top view, the equivalent of aerial view; a side view, like linear perspective,  and often a perspective view.  While aerial view is a "map" of many features seen from above, the original  concept of aerial perspective was identified and named by Leonard da Vinci. He also related it to the declining colors of distant objects.

= Mixed perspective.  Many views, each with its own different perspective, as an artistic arrangement of one medallic design, is known as mixed perspective. An example is the American Law Publishing Medal by Frank Eliscu.

Other perspectives.  "Vaulted perspective" is the opposite of aerial perspective. Instead of looking down, the line of sight is looking skyward, looking upwards. Tall things like tall trees or buildings come together like the inside of a vaulted ceiling. Dramatic medallic designs have been made of this perspective (see illustrations).

Angular, parallel and panoramic perspectives are other tools of the designer, perhaps with limited application to coin and medal design. Conceivably, however, these perspectives could be employed by daring designers for perhaps some quite dramatic medallic art.

Position of the viewer's eye.  While linear is the normal, should the designer move in any direction to change the view, up or down, sideways, forward or backward, this is a change of perspective. Film directors have raised this technique to a fine art, as the camera angle changes often in motion pictures. This is done to add interest, highlight details and emphasize dramatic scenes. It keeps a film from becoming boring. It could do the same in medallic art when coin and medal designers occasionally change the perspective in their designs.

Creating an illusion of depth.  Coin relief is about 1/32nd of an inch deep; medal relief can be higher, say as much as 3/8th of an inch. How can a designer indicate vast depth in these restrictive dimensions? The answer is in bas-relief. This sculptural technique enables the designer and modeler to give the perception of distance by extreme compression. A battle scene stretching for miles, for instance, can be shown on a coin or medal in bas-relief within these parameters. The inside of an immense cathedral can be shown on a 3-inch medal that includes extensive architectural detail (the Wiener medals illustrated herewith). Bas-relief gives designers this amazing sculptural ability once it is mastered.

Cataloging perspective.  Any perspective other than linear should be identified when cataloging any coin or medal. Since linear perspective is considered the normal, any other should be identified.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


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