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In , Lawrence Gowing , 5 noting Vermeer's indifference to linear convention and extreme economy in modeling, wrote, "The technical part of it is plain.

Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces by Philip Steadman -

It is likely Vermeer made use of the camera obscura. Nonetheless, the most pressing point for Gowing was not question whether or not he painted with the camera obscura or learned from it, but why choose the "optical way" to begin with?

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Most of Gowing's text focuses on answering the question in stylistic and psychological terms. In any case, Gowing thought that the technical question was destined to produce little more than "fodder for another of the hobby-horses to which more than one study of the painter has been bound.

On the other hand, the Dutch scholar P.

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  • Swillens , who had meticulously investigated Vermeer painting methods and geometrically reconstructed the rooms represented in his paintings, steadfastly refused to see why Vermeer would have had the need to use any sort of optical aid, be they mirrors, camera lucida or the camera obscura. Charles Seymour was the first to test in real life circumstances the hypothesis that Vermeer was guided by the images he saw in a camera obscura.

    They are, however, produced by the camera obscura's imperfect lens. Seymour also found that the fuzzy rendering of the tapestries in Vermeer's Lacemaker and Girl "with" a Red Hat recall parts of the satin drapery used in his experiment. Seymour's investigation was primarily limited to only two paintings by Vermeer, the Girl with a Red Hat and the Girl with a Flute.

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    Seymour termed his work "preliminary" and suggested that "more research would be profitable, in particular regarding the relationships in the seventeenth century between such experimental milieu as Rome and Paris and England and Holland. In , Daniel Fink once again built a real camera obscura in order to investigate the matter.

    His experiments were conducted in a laboratory similar to a room used by Vermeer, which provided northern light preferred by painters for centuries. Fink maintained that there were characteristic signs of the camera obscura in 26 paintings by Vermeer, the great part of the artist's oeuvre.

    VERMEER'S CAMERA: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces

    Fink found ten points which link the visual qualities produced by the camera obscura image and those of Vermeer's paintings:. Although Fink "hoped that an undiscriminating search will not be initiated which looks for optical phenomena under every suspicious circular blob of paint" he concluded that "Vermeer was unique in his employment of the camera obscura because he left for us the evidence of his use of the instrument in his paintings.

    Not only was the camera obscura useful in helping Vermeer to render what he saw with the unaided eye, but it also provided significant enrichment of the subjects which he did not fail to include in his finished paintings. In , Allan A.

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    Mills 9 came to the conclusion that "it would not have been possible for Vermeer to have painted his interior scenes directly, at full size, from images produced by a room-type camera obscura incorporating the lenses of his time. Such images would have been much too dim and in any case would have been mirror images of the real scene. While the theoretical debate as to whether Vermeer used a camera obscura or not made no substantial progress, the issue polarized Vermeer scholars in opposing camps. Those favorable read into Vermeer's use of the device signs that he was in tune with the spirit of his time when the study of optics held an important place in nascent scientific investigation.

    Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces

    The opposing camp argued, essentially, that by definition great artists have superlative skills and have no need for mechanical devices, or that the characteristics of the camera reveled in Vermeer's paintings may be explained by prevailing painterly styles. Believers argued that naysayer art historians dreaded the use of mechanical device, because it would diminish the stature of the artist's as a creator and, perhaps, a bit of the prestige of the art historians themselves, key negotiators between the artist and the public. Others brush aside the matter maintaining that the use of a technological device is nothing for an artist to be ashamed of: it is another tool, like brushes, paint or canvas, rather than a substitute for artistic talent.

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    In , after years in preparation, the London architect Philip Steadman published his game-changing Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth behind the Masterpieces , a detailed study of Vermeer and the camera obscura notable for the author's level-headed deduction and intellectual clarity. Beginning with measurements of the original maps and the know dimensions of period floor tiles in Vermeer's paintings, Steadman was able to establish scale and precisely correlate the images Vermeer's of paintings and the concrete measurable world they represent.

    He concluded that not only the dimensions of the rooms shown in Vermeer's interiors are very similar, but that at least a dozen of Vermeer's best-known pictures are set in one and the same room. But more remarkably, the London architect provided evidence that the artist may have projected the camera's image directly onto his blank canvases in order to trace the principal outlines of his compositions or alternately first onto paper then transferred to the canvas.

    Arguments against Vermeers use of the camera. The influence of the camera on Vermeers painting style. Architectural features appearing in Vermeers interiors. Measurements of Vermeers room and furniture.

    Vermeer's Camera Uncovering the Truth behind the Masterpieces

    Further Reading. Aesthetic Computing Paul A. He trained as an architect, and has taught at Cambridge University and the Open University. He has published several books on geometry in architecture, and on computer-aided design. In the s heedited and published Form, a quarterly magazine of the arts, and co-authored a book on kinetic art. The mystery story unravels through chapters Who taught Vermeer about optics? This was a lifesize room set, dressed for The Music Lesson and built by the BBC in incorporating a camera obscura. Fascinating stuff and most likely the better for not being written by an artist or art historian.

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