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Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces Paperback – 4 Apr 2002
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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.
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.See all Product description
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Top Customer Reviews
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
Most Recent Customer Reviews
what a brilliant book! A real-life detective story, I couldn't put it down. An object-lesson for art historians on how to do it.Published on 22 Sept. 2013 by Ruth Brandon
i'm annoyed to find that Mr Steadman apparently takes the credit for this discovery, when David Hockney - in his excellent book 'Secret Knowledge: rediscovering the lost techniques... Read morePublished on 27 Mar. 2009 by The Cosmic Whelk
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