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Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces Hardcover – June 7, 2001
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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 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 Publishers Weekly
A professor of "urban and built form studies" at London's University College, Steadman has worked for more than 20 years on the question of whether 17th-century Dutch genius Johannes Vermeer might have used an optic device called a camera obscura (literally, a "dark room") to help create his paintings. Lucidly and with admirable concision, he discusses how the camera obscura works and how it affected painting in nine short chapters such as "Who Taught Vermeer About Optics?" (probably Antony van Leeuwenhoek, a pioneer developer of the microscope and other optic tools) and "Reconstructing the Spaces in Vermeer's Paintings." Steadman shows how Vermeer's paintings reproduce focal distortions and details of perspective that a camera lens would show, but that do not ordinarily come clear to the naked eye, such as when two people sitting next to one another seem to have heads of dramatically different sizes. Steadman built miniature and full-size versions of the rooms shown in Vermeer's paintings (!) to see how the light would be captured and reflected had the painter used a camera obscura. The results yield no final answer to the question of Vermeer's techniques, but the book is a must-read for specialists in 17th-century Dutch art. Those with a more general interest in Vermeer will want to try the standard studies by Lawrence Gowing and A.K. Wheelock.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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One warning--do not get this book in the Kindle format. You need to go back and forth to refer to the diagrams and pictures that illustrate the text, a process I couldn't figure out on my Kindle--not to mention annoying.
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Cordially, Louis R. Velasquez