Almost everyone is familiar with the image of Johannes Vermeer’s The Girl With The Pearl Earring (Het meisje met de parel), even if they know nothing about the artist, or the painting itself.
[.....and even if the closest you get to art is the logo on a pizza box, I'd bet depending on your gender, that Scarlet Johansson or Colin Firth familiarized you with the painting in the 2003 movie of the same name].
Hockney and Falco have produced many publications on the positive evidence for their theory, and the historical plausibility of the methods they suggest. In his book, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, David Hockney analyses the work of many ‘old masters’ of the art world, and argues that the level of accuracy in their paintings would be impossible to create just by having a good hard look at the subject or object they were painting.
A condensed matter physicist and expert in optics, Charles Falco asserts Hockney’s findings, suggesting that while the use of optical aids would generally enhance accuracy, there are certain types of distortion that would result from using such optical devices, such as those found in the paintings of Vermeer, and van Eyck.
Above: Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, with a convex mirror in the background.
There is much evidence against the controversial theory, as shown in Steadman’s ‘Vermeer and the Camera Obscura’, and indeed wikipedia supplies its entry on the Hockney-Falco Thesis with many criticisms regarding the evidence given.
- The Essential Vermeer website: Vermeer’s The Girl With the Pearl Earring - Full analysis is interestingly explored via an interactive image with hotspots explaining small details + fact sheets
- BBC History : Vermeer and the Camera Obscura
- Further reading on an interesting idea regarding camera-like technique to paleolithic drawings
- Charles M Falco’s Art Optics website
- More (Wikipedia) about the camera obscura
- The Movie starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth
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