Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth behind the Masterpieces

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9780192803023: Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth behind the Masterpieces

Art historians have long speculated on how Vermeer achieved the uncanny mixture of detached precision, compositional repose, and perspective accuracy that have drawn many to describe his work as "photographic." Indeed, many wonder if Vermeer employed a camera obscura, a primitive form of camera, to enhance his realistic effects?
In Vermeer's Camera, Philip Steadman traces the development of the camera obscura--first described by Leonaro da Vinci--weighs the arguments that scholars have made for and against Vermeer's use of the camera, and offers a fascinating examination of the paintings themselves and what they alone can tell us of Vermeer's technique. Vermeer left no record of his method and indeed we know almost nothing of the man nor of how he worked. But by a close and illuminating study of the paintings Steadman concludes that Vermeer did use the camera obscura and shows how the inherent defects in this primitive device enabled Vermeer to achieve some remarkable effects--the slight blurring of image, the absence of sharp lines, the peculiar illusion not of closeness but of distance in the domestic scenes. Steadman argues that the use of the camera also explains some previously unexplainable qualities of Vermeer's art, such as the absence of conventional drawing, the pattern of underpainting in areas of pure tone, the pervasive feeling of reticence that suffuses his canvases, and the almost magical sense that Vermeer is painting not objects but light itself.
Drawing on a wealth of Vermeer research and displaying an extraordinary sensitivity to the subtleties of the work itself, Philip Steadman offers in Vermeer's Camera a fresh perspective on some of the most enchanting paintings ever created.

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Review:

Philip Steadman's remarkable book Vermeer's Camera cracks an artistic enigma that has haunted art history for centuries. Over the years, artists and art historians have marveled at the extraordinary visual realism of the paintings of the 17th-century Dutch painter Jan Vermeer. The painter's spectacular View of Delft, painted around 1661, and the beautiful domestic interior The Music Lesson seem almost photographic in their incredible detail and precise perspective. Since the 19th century, experts have speculated that Vermeer used a camera obscura, an early precursor of the modern camera. However, conclusive proof was never discovered, until now. In Vermeer's Camera, Steadman proves that Vermeer did indeed use a camera obscura to complete his greatest canvases. Part art-historical study, part scientific argument, but mainly a fascinating detective story, Vermeer's Camera argues:

Vermeer had a camera obscura with a lens at the painting's viewpoint. He used this arrangement to project the scene onto the back wall of the room, which thus served as the camera's screen. He put paper on the wall and traced, perhaps even painted from the projected image. It is because Vermeer traced these images that they are the same size as the paintings themselves.
Steadman painstakingly develops his argument through careful study of the history of the camera obscura, an exploration of 17th-century optics, and a detailed study of the light, optics, perspective, and measurement of a series of Vermeer's paintings. He goes to remarkable lengths to reconstruct Vermeer's studio and its furnishings, down to the angle of the light from its windows. The science is complex, but always clearly explained. This is not an attempt to reveal Vermeer as an artistic "cheat." Steadman convincingly argues that "Vermeer's obsessions with light, tonal values, shadow, and colour, for the treatment of which his work is so admired, are very closely bound up with his study of the special qualities of optical images." Vermeer's Camera is a wonderful book that shows the ways in which, during the 17th century, art and science went hand in hand. It offers an enlarged, rather than reduced, perspective on Vermeer. --Jerry Brotton. Amazon.co.uk

From the Author:

Controversy about Vermeer's use of the camera obscura

The suggestion that Vermeer might have employed some optical device as an aid to painting is more than a hundred years old. From the 1890s up to the 1980s a broad consensus built amongst Vermeer scholars, that the artist seems likely to have made use of the camera obscura - though the exact details of this technique remained uncertain. The notion was investigated experimentally by Seymour, Fink and Wheelock. Meanwhile the implications for Vermeer's style were explored by several critics, outstanding among them the poet Paul Claudel, the painter Lawrence Gowing in his monograph on Vermeer of 1952, and the historian Svetlana Alpers in The Art of Describing (1983). There were dissenting voices, certainly - as for example Swillens, who argued that Vermeer used geometrical perspective methods - and other critics for whom the issue was unimportant. But the majority view supported the idea that Vermeer was a camera user.

In the 1990s this consensus was broken. The catalogue of the big Vermeer exhibition held in Washington and The Hague in 1995/96 mentioned the camera briefly, but claimed that Vermeer 'did not trace the image' directly. Much more space was devoted to an article by Jörgen Wadum, curator at The Hague, proposing that the artist relied instead on conventional mathematical perspective procedures. Since then several authors have been quite insistent that Vermeer did not use the camera. For example a volume of Vermeer Studies, published by Yale in 1998, contained an article on the camera obscura by Jean-Luc Delsaute, who concluded: "it seems rash to continue to believe that the camera was one of the tools with which [Vermeer] worked."

The position of Arthur Wheelock, principal curator of the 1995/96 exhibition, and author of many books on Vermeer, appears to have evolved. In his doctoral thesis of 1973 he was enthusiastic about the camera theory. More recently he seems to have become dubious, believing that although Vermeer might have been familiar with the instrument, and might even have mimicked its effects on occasion, he certainly did not trace large parts of his paintings from camera images. Instead he set up his perspectives, Wheelock believes, in the same way as contemporary Dutch architectural painters: ' a rough sketch, a construction drawing and then the final composition.'

This scepticism seems to arise out of distaste for the very idea that Vermeer might have been guilty of what is still regarded as a form of cheating. (Vermeer's Camera argues that this view is misplaced and historically irrelevant in the case of Vermeer.) Another reason for doubt is that most previous arguments for Vermeer's use of the camera have been founded on minor idiosyncrasies of his painting style. Otherwise the use of the instrument would have left no obvious trace. No documentary evidence of any kind survives about Vermeer's working methods, no drawings from his hand, no clear-cut results from x-ray analysis of the canvases. Thus it has been difficult to reach definite conclusions.

Vermeer's Camera takes a wholly new approach to the issue, via the geometrical structure of Vermeer's pictures of domestic interiors. Through this route it is possible to reconstruct, with great precision, the architecture of the room in which Vermeer set as many as a dozen of his compositions, and to confirm that he depicts real pieces of furniture, real maps and real paintings - all of which survive today - at their actual known sizes. The central finding of the book is that the projected images, on the back wall of at least six of Vermeer's views of this room, are the exact same sizes as the canvases themselves. It is very difficult to explain this result, other than as powerful evidence of Vermeer tracing these images in a camera obscura. The fact that the arguments of the book are geometrical ones, about unarguable, measurable properties of the paintings themselves, gives them a special force.

The geometrical results cannot easily be accounted for by the idea that Vermeer worked, not optically, but mathematically. Indeed Vermeer's Camera demonstrates that, although it is plausible in itself that Vermeer might have used textbook perspective methods, there is no positive evidence for this proposition (not even the presence of tiny pinholes at the perspective 'vanishing points', as some authors including Wadum have argued).

Philip Steadman, January 2001

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Descrizione libro Oxford University Press, United Kingdom, 2002. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Over 100 years of speculation and controversy surround claims that the great seventeenth-century Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer, used the camera obscura to create some of the most famous images in Western art. This intellectual detective story starts by exploring Vermeer s possible knowledge of seventeenth-century optical science, and outlines the history of this early version of the photographic camera, which projected an accurate image for artists to trace. However, it is Steadman s meticulous reconstruction of the artist s studio, complete with a camera obscura, which provides exciting new evidence to support the view that Vermeer did indeed use the camera. These findings do not challenge Vermeer s genius but show how, like many artists, he experimented with new technology to develop his style and choice of subject matter. The combination of detailed research and a wide range of contemporary illustrations offers a fascinating glimpse into a time of great scientific and cultural innovation and achievement in Europe. Codice libro della libreria AOP9780192803023

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Descrizione libro Oxford University Press, United Kingdom, 2002. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Over 100 years of speculation and controversy surround claims that the great seventeenth-century Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer, used the camera obscura to create some of the most famous images in Western art. This intellectual detective story starts by exploring Vermeer s possible knowledge of seventeenth-century optical science, and outlines the history of this early version of the photographic camera, which projected an accurate image for artists to trace. However, it is Steadman s meticulous reconstruction of the artist s studio, complete with a camera obscura, which provides exciting new evidence to support the view that Vermeer did indeed use the camera. These findings do not challenge Vermeer s genius but show how, like many artists, he experimented with new technology to develop his style and choice of subject matter. The combination of detailed research and a wide range of contemporary illustrations offers a fascinating glimpse into a time of great scientific and cultural innovation and achievement in Europe. Codice libro della libreria AOP9780192803023

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Descrizione libro Oxford University Press. Paperback. Condizione libro: new. BRAND NEW, Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces, Philip Steadman, Over 100 years of speculation and controversy surround claims that the great seventeenth-century Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer, used the camera obscura to create some of the most famous images in Western art. This intellectual detective story starts by exploring Vermeer's possible knowledge of seventeenth-century optical science, and outlines the history of this early version of the photographic camera, which projected an accurate image for artists to trace. However, it is Steadman's meticulous reconstruction of the artist's studio, complete with a camera obscura, which provides exciting new evidence to support the view that Vermeer did indeed use the camera. These findings do not challenge Vermeer's genius but show how, like many artists, he experimented with new technology to develop his style and choice of subject matter. The combination of detailed research and a wide range of contemporary illustrations offers a fascinating glimpse into a time of great scientific and cultural innovation and achievement in Europe. Codice libro della libreria B9780192803023

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Descrizione libro Oxford University Press, 2002. Condizione libro: New. Philip Steadman investigates the claims that the 17th-century artist, Johannes Vermeer, used the camera obscura to create some of his artwork. this study reconstructs his studio, complete with camera. He asserts that that this experimentation with new technology enabled his style to develop. Num Pages: 222 pages, numerous halftones and line drawings; 8pp colour plates. BIC Classification: 1DDN; ACQ; AFC; AGB; AJG. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 237 x 158 x 15. Weight in Grams: 356. . 2002. 1st Edition. Paperback. . . . . . Codice libro della libreria V9780192803023

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Descrizione libro Oxford University Press. Condizione libro: New. Philip Steadman investigates the claims that the 17th-century artist, Johannes Vermeer, used the camera obscura to create some of his artwork. this study reconstructs his studio, complete with camera. He asserts that that this experimentation with new technology enabled his style to develop. Num Pages: 222 pages, numerous halftones and line drawings; 8pp colour plates. BIC Classification: 1DDN; ACQ; AFC; AGB; AJG. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 237 x 158 x 15. Weight in Grams: 356. . 2002. 1st Edition. Paperback. . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. Codice libro della libreria V9780192803023

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