A stacked perspective is when, rather than relying on a vanishing point as in one- or two-point perspective (“the railway lines thing”), elements are piled (stacked) one above another in the composition to give the illusion of depth and distance. Or to put it in art speak: when objects are placed higher on the picture plane to create spacial illusion.
It’s easier to understand by looking at an example than reading about it. In the book “Japanese Prints : The Collection of Vincent van Gogh” I came across a fabulous example of stacked perspective in a print by Hiroshige. Van Gogh copied this print into the background of his “Portrait of Pere Tanguy” painting.
In the photo of the print below, start counting the stacks or elements with the white heron at the bottom, or Mount Fuji at the top. Then look at how the elements overlap, linking the parts of the composition whilst creating the sense of some things being behind others.
“Hiroshige’s composition is extremely sophisticated, involving a stacked perspective of seven ‘curtains’, starting with the white heron in the foreground, and ending with Mount Fuji in the distance.” [Quote source: “Japanese Prints : The Collection of Vincent van Gogh” by Chris Uhlenbeck, Louis van Tilborgh, and Shigeru Oikawa, 2018, p. 108]
Calling the elements or layers “curtains” and imaginging transparent shower curtains with images printed on them, really works for me in terms of understanding “stacked perspective”.