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Isamu Motoyoshi; Ecological-optics origin of the style of European and East-Asian classical painting. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):1188. doi: 10.1167/11.11.1188.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Despite the apparent universality of human vision, the style of classical paintings is remarkably different across cultures. Classical paintings in Europe after the renaissance typically consist of bright objects with strong shading on dark backgrounds, whereas those from north–east Asia (China, Korea, and Japan) tend to consist of motifs drawn in dark shades and contours on bright backgrounds. Notably, Asian paintings completely lack cast shadows and highlights, which are a central feature of the realism of European paintings. Image-statistics analysis shows that European paintings tend to have more contrast and skewness in most subbands compared to Asian paintings. I propose that these differences originate in part from differences in the structure of illumination in the two climatic regions. In the Mediterranean (e.g. Italy), illumination tends to be highly directional, and as a result the images of objects contain richly variegated shading and sharp highlights. In the Monsoon climate (e.g., South of Chang River) on the other hand, illumination is diffuse due to clouds and rain, and as a result shading is only found in the deepest concavities of objects, and highlights are blurred. It was found that under directional illumination objects have higher contrast and skewness than under diffuse illumination, consistent with the statistics of paintings. This suggests that in the two cultural regions, artists were first attempting to capture and emphasize the natural appearance of the environment.
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