This section is from the "The elements of drawing & the elements of perspective" book, by J. M. Dent & Sons. Also see Amazon: The Elements Of Drawing & The Elements Of Perspective.
Whenever perspective, done by true rule, looks wrong, it is always because the station-point is too near. Determine, in the outset, at what distance the spectator is likely to examine the work, and never use a station-point within a less distance.
There is yet another and a very important reason, not only for care in placing the station-point, but for that accurate calculation of distance and observance of measurement which have been insisted on throughout this work. All drawings of objects on a reduced scale are, if rightly executed, drawings of the appearance of the object at the distance which in true perspective reduces it to that scale. They are not small drawings of the object seen near, but drawings the real size of the object seen far off. Thus if you draw a mountain in a landscape, three inches high, you do not reduce all the features of the near mountain so as to come into three inches of paper. You could not do that. All that you can do is to give the appearance of the mountain, when it is so far
1 The greatest masters are also fond of parallel perspective, that is to say, of having one side of their buildings fronting them full, and therefore parallel to the picture plane, while the other side vanishes to the sight-point. This is almost always done in figure backgrounds, securing simple and balanced lines.
off that three inches of paper would really hide it from you. It is precisely the same in drawing any other object. A face can no more be reduced in scale than a mountain can. It is infinitely delicate already; it can only be quite rightly rendered on its own scale, or at least on the slightly diminished scale which would be fixed by placing the plate of glass, supposed to represent the field of the picture, close to the figures. Correggio and Raphael were both fond of this slightly subdued magnitude of figure. Colossal painting, in which Correggio excelled all others, is usually the enlargement of a small picture (as a colossal sculpture is of a small statue), in order to permit the subject of it to be discerned at a distance. The treatment of colossal (as distinguished from ordinary) paintings will depend therefore, in general, on the principles of optics.more than on those of perspective, though, occasionally, portions may be represented as if they were the projection of near objects on a plane behind them. In all points the subject is one of great difficulty and subtlety; and its examination does not fall within the compass of this essay.
Lastly, it will follow from these considerations, and the conclusion is one of great practical importance, that, though pictures may be enlarged, they cannot be reduced, in copying them. All attempts to engrave pictures completely on a reduced scale are, for this reason, nugatory. The best that can be done is to give the aspect of the picture at the distance which reduces it in perspective to the size required; or, in other words, to make a drawing of the distant effect of the picture. Good painting, like nature's own work, is infinite, and unreduceable.
I wish this book had less tendency towards the infinite and unreduceable. It has so far exceeded the limits I hoped to give it, that I doubt not the reader will pardon an abruptness of conclusion, and be thankful, as I am myself, to get to an end on any terms.