Posts Tagged ‘Camera obscura’

Vermeer-related article

January 31st, 2015

“Most rare workmen”: Optical practitioners in early seventeenth-century Delft”
Huib J. Zuidervaart and Marlise Rijks
The British Journal for the History of Science, pp. 1 – 33, (March 2014)

online article can be accessed at:
http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9202672&fileId
=S0007087414000181

abstract:
A special interest in optics among various seventeenth-century painters living in the Dutch city of Delft has intrigued historians, including art historians, for a long time. Equally, the impressive career of the Delft microscopist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek has been studied by many historians of science. However, it has never been investigated who, at that time, had access to the mathematical and optical knowledge necessary for the impressive achievements of these Delft practitioners. We have tried to gain insight into Delft as a ‘node’ of optical knowledge by following the careers of three minor local figures in early seventeenth-century Delft. We argue that through their work, products, discussions in the vernacular and exchange of skills, rather than via learned publications, these practitioners constituted a foundation on which the later scientific and artistic achievements of other Delft citizens were built. Our Delft case demonstrates that these practitioners were not simple and isolated craftsmen; rather they were crucial components in a network of scholars, savants, painters and rich virtuosi. Decades before Vermeer made his masterworks, or Van Leeuwenhoek started his famous microscopic investigations, the intellectual atmosphere and artisanal knowledge in this city centered on optical topics.

Especially of interest is the authors’ tie between three optical practitioners who lived in Delft simultaneously with Vermeer. One of them, Jacob Spoors, was in 1674 the notary of Vermeer and his mother-in-law Maria Thins. Another was an acquaintance of Spoors, the military engineer Johan van der Wyck, who made an optical device in Delft in 1654, most likely a camera obscura. A report about the demonstration in nearby The Hague has been preserved. Van der Wyck also made telescopes and microscopes and an apparatus that probably was a kind of perspective box. As a telescope maker he was preceded by Evert Harmansz Steenwyck, brother-in- law of the Leiden painter David Bailly and father of two Delft still-life painters: Harman and Pieter Steenwyck. The latter was familiar with Vermeer’s father Reynier Jansz Vermeer, at a time when the young Vermeer was still living with his parents. According to the authors, this is the first real archival evidence that such a device existed in Delft during Vermeer’s life.

Tim’s Vermeer: Pollice verso, but which way?

February 23rd, 2014

Curiously, the two most prominent studies of Vermeer in the second half of the 20th century were not authored by art historians. The American economist John Michael Montias pieced together a coherent biography of Vermeer after having translated and transcribed over 400 legal depositions, wills, deeds, warrants, inventories, promissory notes and other official documents related to Vermeer and his extended family. The British architect Philip Steadman meticulously reviewed the long-debated hypothesis that Vermeer had employed the camera obscura as an aid to his painting. Not only did Steadman confirm the hypothesis, he virtually proved (with numbers in hand) that Vermeer used the device to trace the outlines of his compositions directly to his canvas.

Is the Texan tech pioneer Tim Jenison a serious candidate to make the Montias/Steadman duo a trio? The verdict is still out, or to be more precise, it probably hasn’t been pronounced. Yes, it is true that Tim’s Vermeer has slain dead the general public and mesmerized lay press with a revolutionary take on how Vermeer painted with a simple lens device. But to date, art specialists have remained impressively silent (to those who are familiar with the art history mindset that may already be a pretty clear verdict).

Recently, however, the art critic Jonathan Jones of the Guardian broke file to become the first naysayer to step on the stage. Jones takes big swings and holds no punches. He relegates the Texan and his illusionist partners Penn & Teller to the ranks of dilettante outsiders who accomplish little more than producing a passionless, paint-by-numbers copy of a real masterpiece and creating one big illusion of their own: that virtually anyone can replicate a Vermeer painting by a lens and mirror device discovered by Tim.

Read here: DIY Vermeer documentary utterly misses the point about old masters: Tim Jenison tried for a whole year to recreate a Vermeer painting – and all he got was a pedantic imitation

Tim’s Vermeer update

December 2nd, 2013

More on the documentary film, TIM’S VERMEER.

Vermeer-jug

Can anyone do this?

The press has really sunken their teeth in it. Three new articles look at how Tim Jenison, an American tech wizard and compulsive inventor, believes he has discovered how Vermeer painted and then painted one to prove it. (see a quick summary of Tim’s story below).

Kurt Andersen of Vanity Fair looks at some of the technical aspects of the undertaking. Tim shows his cards and throws in a high-resolution image of his finished Vermeer to prove his point. To get yourself convinced or unconvinced, read the article, see Tim’s painting and then click here to see the original on which Tim’s reconstruction is based.

Dave Itzkoff of the New York Times registers the art history community’s first reactions. As you would expect, they are doubtful without being explicitly dismissive. I would suspect this not so much to avoid the unsavory prospect of being caught on the wrong side of history (remember how dreadfully wrong some got the Impressionists and Van Meegeren and how much they paid for it?) but for institutional good manners and an understandable apprehension about alienating the broad public which the movie targets and will likely win over. Could any one calculate how many more visitors will be pushing though the turnsyles of Vermeer museums if Tim’s Vermeer clinches an Oscar for best documentary feature?

Stefanie Cohen of the Wall Street Journal furnishes background information about the “optical question” posed by Steadman and then describes Tim’s venture reserving Philip Steadman’s iffy comment for last. Steadman’s meticulous investigation and lucid argumentation regarding Vermeer’s use the camera obscura eventually brought almost all art historians onboard his not-easy to-digest hypothesis (i.e. Vermeer used the camera and traced with it too), no easy trick for an art history outsider.

Will layman Tim do as well? Tim’s story has just begun to be told.

Tim’s Vermeer opens Dec. 6 at Lincoln Plaza Cinema, 1886 Broadway, Manhattan. Opens Dec. 13 in Los Angeles, nationwide on Jan. 31.

“Reverse-Engineering a Genius (Has a Vermeer Mystery Been Solved?)”
Kurt Andersen, Vanity Fair
November 29, 2013
http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2013/11/vermeer-secret-tool-mirrors-lenses

“Engineering His Own Vermeer. Tim Jenison, an Inventor, Paints ‘The Music Lesson'”
Dave Itzkoff, New York Times
November 27, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/01/movies/tim-jenison-an-inventor-paints-the-music-lesson.html?emc=eta1

“A Man Obsessed by a Dutch Master: In ‘Tim’s Vermeer,’ a documentary co-produced by Penn and Teller, an inventor tries to reach into Vermeer’s bag of tricks”
Stefanie Cohen, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 28, 2013
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304011304579222152499998092

Vermeer-related study

September 1st, 2013

From Perception to Paint: the practical use of the Camera Obscura in the time of Vermeer
Jane Jelley
in Art and Perception
July 2013

janejelly

There has been much debate as to whether Vermeer himself would have used any kind of optical aid in the execution of his paintings. The paintings themselves appear to show optical effects and distortions, seen only through a lens and not with the naked eye. Was Vermeer just influenced by the view through a camera, or did he transfer the projected images directly to his paintings?

Jane Jelly’s experiment shows a method that would have made transfers from a projection to a canvas a practical possibility, using readily available materials and contemporary technology. This technique not only solves the problems of the reversals of camera obscura images, but significantly, the resultant transfers from the lens show striking resonances with Vermeer’s own underpainting, revealed by scientific analysis. This research also provides some answers about the use of particular materials in the 17th-century studio.

click here to download PDF

Ideas for the technically minded

March 10th, 2013

Dragnetting the web for Vermeer as I often do, a lot comes up, both illuminating and obscure.

For example, I discovered that aside from Philip Steadman’s game-changing study on Vermeer and the camera obscura, the amount of technically oriented writings on Vermeer’s interiors is extensive, and a number of them can be accessed online. I won’t swear by any: the math is way way over my head, but maybe not over yours.

The Vienna Art of Painting exhibition detail

November 23rd, 2009

Regarding the upcoming Art of Painting special exhibition in Vienna (25 January – 25 April 2010), I have been kindly informed that the organisers have created a 1:1  3D reconstruction of Vermeer’s masterpiece following the drawings of the London architect and Vermeer/camera obscura expert, Philip Steadman.  A large camera obscura was subsequently employed to obtain  images. Some photos of the camera obscura images  will be included in the exhibition.

Most any Vermeer enthusiast will remember Steadman’s carefully-researched and much-discussed book (Vermeer’s Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces) on Vermeer’s use of the camera obscura (a sort of 17th-century precursor of the modern photographic camera). The dust still has not completely settled  dividing Vermeer notables into two camps. Since The Art of Painting is said by many to present some of the peculiar visual qualities which are characteristic of the image produced by the camera obscura, this part of the exhibition may be useful to those who those who seek visual evidence in regards to the issue.

I have always enjoyed, but more importantly,  learned, something more from small-scale exhibitions with a clear focus more than blockbuster overviews which tend to overwhelm someone like myself who can at best absorb one painting at at time (perhaps a professional deformation stemming from the habit of painting only one painting at a time) .  See,  for example,  the excellent  Milkmaid exhibit currently at the MET.

The Art of Painting exhibit seems to be shaping  up nicely. All I need now is some some cash that falls off a tree for a round-trip ticket and lodging.

Steadman lecture

December 11th, 2008

Philip Steadman, the English architect who stirred up so much discussion with his book about Vermeer and the camera obscura, will be giving a lecture called Anamorphosis in Holland in the 17th Century: Van Hoogstraten, Fabritius and Vermeer at the National Gallery in London, Saturday 13 December, 10.30am – 4pm.

I expect he will be examining the intriguing lid of the painted virginal in Vermeer’s Lady Standing at a Virginal.

See my interview with Steadman here.