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Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces Paperback – 4 Apr 2002

4.3 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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  • Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces
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  • Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters
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  • Tim's Vermeer [DVD] [2013] [2014]
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Product details

  • Paperback: 222 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed edition (4 April 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192803026
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192803023
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 1.3 x 15.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 44,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Amazon 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 marvelled at the extraordinary visual realism of the paintings of the 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes 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, Philip Steadman conclusively 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 that 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. Nor is this 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

This intellectual detective story explores Vermeer's possible knowledge of 17th century science and provides exciting new evidence that one of the world's best-loved painters used a camera obscura to create some of the most famous images in Western Art. Illustrated with colour plates and monochrome illustrations, the book offers a fascinating glimpse of a time of great scientific and cultural innovation and achievement. Highly recommended.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I watched a documentary about a project to recreate a famous Vermeer painting to prove a theory about how he had been able to paint with such precision that the painting has an almost photographic quality - something that most painters could not achieve. This book was mentioned in that documentary as one of the texts that had sparked the whole project.
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By A Customer on 9 May 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a must for anyone interested in art - or even who just wants a good read. It's rather like a detective story. What is the evidence that Vermeer used a camera obscura to help create his paintings? The colour plates are rather good, too. A bargain.
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Format: Paperback
Vermeer is one of the most popular artists today; his paintings are unlike those of other well-known Dutch and Flemish artists, and there are surprisingly few of them. Steadman explains why.

Steadman's book lays out, in great detail, the way in which he identifies the kind of camera obscura used by Vermeer; its precise dimensions and positioning, the way Vermeer employed it, and the effects it had on Vermeer's work. Some of this detail is turgid at times; though fascinating to read, this is not a jolly romp and readers must bring their full attention to it.

Vermeer's career and biography is examined in the light of Steadman's research; he is able to link Vermeer to Van Leeuwenhoek who was working with lenses at the time. The argument is convincing and adds to our understanding of Vermeer's work, which is in no way lessened by Steadman's thesis.

The popular novel Girl With a Pearl Earring also assumes Vermeer uses a camera obscura, although of a different type. Anyone who would like to read a more lively, if less accurate, description of Vermeer's use of optics to design his paintings may find it fun. The use of optics by Vermeer and other artists is, of course, examined in Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters by Hockney
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Just a first class book for any one interested in the work of Vermeer. Also buy second hand, it is good value for money.
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Format: Paperback
Contrary to the 1 star reviewer, this book by Steadman is quoted extensively by Hockney. Try the whole section on Vermeer's lenses, on p.224.
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