In the Middle Ages, paintings did not look particularly realistic. Almost all art was religious, and artists were not interested in drawing attention to the human nature of, for example, Jesus and Mary. Instead, artists tried to visually represent spiritual aspects of their subjects. For example, the relative size of figures or objects often showed their importance in a spiritual hierarchy.
With the Renaissance came a new interest in accurately depicting the beauty of the human form and the natural world. To be realistic, a painting had to create the illusion of distance and depth on a flat surface. In the early 1400s, a Renaissance architect named Filippo Brunelleschi performed a series of optical experiments to devise mathematical formulas for achieving perspective.
Brunelleschi discovered the laws of linear perspective, which explain how the human eye perceives distant objects as smaller than close ones. Renaissance painters soon began to use Brunelleschi’s rules of perspective in their works. In The School of Athens, Raphael used precise mathematical measurements and perspective techniques to render the architectural setting and the people within it. In this scene, which appears on a wall in the Vatican Palace in Rome, Plato and Aristotle are surrounded by other famous Greek philosophers.