Zooming in on style: Exploring style perception using details of paintings

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Most studies on the perception of style have used whole scenes/entire paintings; in our study, we isolated a single motif (an apple) to reduce or even eliminate the influence of composition, iconography, and other contextual information. In this article, we empirically address two fundamental questions of the existence (Experiment 1) and description (Experiment 2) of style. We chose 48 cut-outs of mostly Western European paintings (15th to 21st century) that showed apples. In Experiment 1, 415 unique participants completed online triplet similarity tasks. Multidimensional scaling (MDS) reached a nonrandom three-dimensional (3D) embedding, showing that participants are able to judge stylistic differences in a systematic way. We also found a strong correlation between creation year and embedding, both a linear correlation with Dimension 2, and a rotational correlation in the first two dimensions. To interpret the embedding further, in Experiment 2, we fitted three color statistics and nine attribute ratings (glossiness, three-dimensionality, convincingness, brush coarseness, etc.) to the 3D perceptual style space. Results showed that Dimension 1 is associated with spatial attributes (Smoothness, Brushstroke coarseness) and Convincingness, Dimension 2 is related to Hue, and Dimension 3 is related to Chroma. The results suggest that texture and color are two important variables for style perception. By isolating the motifs, we could exclude higher levels of information such as composition and context. Interestingly, the results reinforce previous findings using whole scenes, suggesting that style can already be perceived in sometimes very small fragments of paintings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • style perception
  • multidimensional scaling
  • art history
  • property estimation

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