Monday, 4 April 2016

C = Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura

Leonardo da Vinci made clear in 1519 already mentions this technique. "The principle of the camera obscura (in latin camera=room and obscura=dark) is as simple as it seems magical even today. The windowless box or chamber has a small hole in one site and a white side of wall opposite the side with the hole. Light entering the camera obscura through the hole projects onto the screen wall, and produces and upside-down and reversed image. Most camera obscuras were fitted with a lens in the hole to focus the image.
The image of the early camera obscura had two particular properties which made them quite different from reality. The image was projected upside down and the luminosity was in general rather weak. This was due to the small aperture, usually no wider than a finger, which emitted only the minimum of light. This could be remedied by a larger aperture but the image was more blurred, unless a lens was mounted in the aperture as was the case in the 16th century.

In Delft, vision-extending and vision-transforming instruments such as the camera obscura must have been readily available. They were the passion of Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek, an industrious researcher now famous for his discovery of micro-organisms through the microscope. It is almost impossible to imagine that these exact contemporaries, both baptized in 1632 and both high achievers in their fields, would not have come across each other in the small city of Delft.

Vermeer and the Camera Obscura

Did Johannes Vermeer used "photographs" as the basis for his paintings? Scholars all over the world have been busy finding the evidence. Many of them comment on the unbalance of the painted figures. It is unlikely that Vermeer didn't have the skills to paint  all his objects and people in proportion.

Daniel Fink stated in 1971 that Vermeer probably used a Camera Obscura. He found ten arguments to support his views on Vermeers use of the Camera Obscura:
  1. Variations principal planes of focus;
  2. precise diminution of circles of confusion;
  3. halation (aura) of highlights;
  4. precise treatment of reflections;
  5. closeness of the point of view to the window wall;
  6. precise convergence of parallel lines located in a plane perpendicular (an instrument for indicating the vertical line from any point) to the viewing axis;
  7. use of curtains to darken viewing room and control subject illumination;
  8. relative detail in still life portion versus figure detail;
  9. consistent proportions of the paintings (4-5:5 or almost square);
  10. dimensional precision in rendering objects.

Tim Jenison

 Inventor Tim Jenison in Texas took that one step further. Jenison has long been obsessed with the painting by Vermeer. "The Vermeer paintings are legendary for their realism. Many have speculated that he must have used a kind of optical technology to get such realistic result. "But never has anyone demonstrated how he could have done this in the seventeenth century. 
Could Johannes Vermeer make colour copies with a Camera Obscura? Because, as the Texan, represents not only the light and objects are extremely realistic, even the colours are like perfect.

Jenison devised a technique for it: by a self-hold ground above the lens cloth he could compare the colours of life with the colours of his palette. After thinking a few years, and painting his self-painted replica of the painting The Music Lesson ready. When asked whether Johannes Vermeer 350 years ago with the same technology 'colour photographs' did he, as it were copied with his brush Jenison can inconclusive. "But my point is that if I, as an inexperienced painter, with this technique, which was also found in the seventeenth century, a painting can make towards that of Johannes Vermeer come - it is not unlikely that he's also so done.'

There is also made a documentary about the quest for the secret of Johannes Vermeer: ​​Tim's Vermeer. Here is a trailer of that documentary:




  1. Wow Han...I never heard about Vermeer possibly using any kind of photography as a basis for his paintings. Thanks for all the fascinating information.

    Hugs and blessings...Cat

    1. It is just guessing because we will never know for sure, but modern science really tributes to a better understanding what could have happened in the 17th Century.

      Thanks for reading, Cat,


  2. Toevallig laatst nog een weekend in Delft overnacht en de Vermeer wandelroute gelopen. Interessant allemaal.

    1. How nice you did the "Vermeer walk" in Delft! It is interesting and the City of Delft is finally paying tribute to one of it's most important painters in the past!

      Thanks for stopping by, Bedankt voor je bezoek,

  3. Interesting.......thanks for writing!

    Zulu Delta

    1. Well, thank you for stopping by Zulu Delta.


  4. My heart always melt, when I read;
    Leonardo da Vinci
    Interesting post as always..

    Mona Lisa da Vinci


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