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07/05/2011

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H Niyazi

Superb post! Despite the increasing optical evidence suggesting the possible use of the camera lucida/obscura device to aid composition, it's unlikely to be embraced by traditional art historians until a smoking gun document is fished out from somewhere linking an artist directly to a device.

That many art historians cannot hope to make sense of the mathematics underlying optical studies of art seem to be a the greatest sticking point, hence the statement "no documentation exists".

The reproducible logical processes of focal phenomena are used in analyses of images used in photography by military and law enforcement on a daily basis - yet apply it to art and have it generate some numbers and you have people up in arms.

There are fascinating articles on this being done extending before Vermeer, going all the way back to van Eyck, although me must remember that the description of optical properties underlying such devices go as far back as Aristotle.

For those interested, Charles Falco's site hosted by the University of Arizona contains many interesting resources:

http://www.optics.arizona.edu/SSD/art-optics/index.html

David Stork's mathematical analysis of certain pieces are also worth exploring, in some instances providing a counterpoint analysis to some of Hockney-Falco's findings.

Better science is the way to refute claims, not intuitive statements which are little more than leaps of faith.

Lorne Campbell's lengthy rant about van Eyck not needing to use a mirror or lens in the 'Renaissance Faces' catalogue is perfect example of an traditional art historian using very little to refute claims about these techniques other than their gut feeling.

Nevertheless, an interesting topic, which wont be going away any time soon!

Kind Regards
H

Glennis McGregor

I saw 'David Hockney: Secret Knowledge' on BBC4 Omnibus a few years ago and it was a really engaging programme on the subject. Also saw Hockney's portraits done using a camera obscura at his portrait exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 2007 and really admired his devotion to understanding early artists and techniques.

So it's great to see the academic validation of his research in the Arizona University link in the comment above. I'm currently enjoying the Sunday at the Met YouTube videos http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=On+the+Use+of+Optical+Devices+by+Renaissance+Painters&aq=f whilst I 'work'

H Niyazi

Hi Glennis - my grasp of Hockney-Falco and Stork et al's work are more in congruence with my own scientific training.

There are very few art historians that will acquiesce to use of these techniques, despite the mathematics underlying them.

It is a source of constant puzzlement when scientific elements that are not understood are fobbed of for "lack of documentation" Some art historians are only starting to come around to accepting chemical analyses of pigments. eg. We can now describe Renaissance artists' color palettes in chemical terms - rather than rely on documentation of ancient pigment recipes to validate them.

This optical science stuff will take a little bit longer!

H Niyazi
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