We like to think of Peterman’s Eye as an old fashioned interactive community newspaper (if there is such a thing) focused on travel and curiosities. Talk with us about today’s post. Tell us about the places you’ve been. Or take a trip using J. Peterman’s exclusive travel services (coming soon). Read more...
April 21, 2014
Could it be that the world's biggest art swindle was perpetrated by the artists themselves?
Depends who you ask. Some art experts claim that the near perfect realism and perspective achieved by many of the West's great artists came by way of a little help from their lens.
A groundswell of opinion indicates the likes of Caravaggio, Durer, Hals, Holbein, Raphael, Rembrandt, van Eyck, Velazquez, and particularly Vermeer used an optical aid called a "camera obscura" to project their subject matter on a screen prior to painting. Although camera obscuras were known in Aristotle's time, the first version to practically assist artists consisted of a large unlit crate the artist could stand in. Lodged in one of the walls was a glass lens and when aimed at a subject outside the box, it would project a mirror image of the scene on the inside wall of the crate.
Other portable versions became available and were used, not just for transposing images, but also as a means of observing the sun.
But let's get back to the masters. If the camera obscura left no physical trace of its use, what proof is there that it was used at all?
Perhaps the strongest evidence is the way these artists perfectly recreated images that would have been in focus to the artist's naked eye, but out of focus when projected by a camera obscura. The two lion head finials in Vermeer's The Girl with the Red Hat are good examples of this. Also, the apparent lack of preliminary sketches and the absence of sharp lines add weight to the theory.
Moreover, noted English artist David Hockney goes so far to say that the realism of paintings improved at the same pace as the advancement of lens technology.
But come on now, we're all friends here. So what if Jan et al had a little help? It's not like they tried to pass off a giclee as a painting.
Is the use of the camera obscura art, or simply a case of the artists being artful?
Share your thoughts about an event or topic discussed in Peterman’s Eye; if you’re not a member yet (you need to be), use the Sign Up.