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Vermeer's Camera


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Table of Contents

Introduction 1: The camera obscura 2: The discovery of Vermeer's use of the camera 3: Who taught Vermeer about optics? 4: A room in Vermeer's house? 5: Reconstructing the spaces in Vermeer's paintings 6: The riddle of the Sphinx of Delft 7: More evidence, from rebuilding Vermeer's studio 8: Arguments against Vermeer's use of the camera 9: The influence of the camera on Vermeer's painting style Appendices Further Reading A. Architectural features appearing in Vermeer's interiors B. Measurements of Vermeer's room and furniture

About the Author

Philip Steadman is Professor of Urban and Built Form Studies at University College London. He trained as an architect, and has taught at Cambridge University and the Open University. He has published several books on geometry in architecture, and on computer-aided design. In the 1960s he edited and published Form, a quarterly magazine of the arts, and co-authored a book on kinetic art. He helped to produce four computer-animated films on the work of Leonardo da Vinci for an exhibition in London in 1989. He has also contributed to other exhibitions, films, and books on perspective geometry and the history of art. Vermeer's Camera is the product of twenty years' fascination with the Dutch painter.


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. (June) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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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