Sign up FAST! Login

Vermeer's paintings might be 350 year-old color photographs

Vermeer s paintings might be 350 year old color photographs Boing Boing


I was sitting in the bathtub in 2008 when I thought of a simple way Johannes Vermeer (Girl with a Pearl Earring) might have painted his photorealistic pictures 350 years ago, long before the invention of photography. Vermeer's paintings are legendary for their realism, and many have speculated that he must have used some sort of optical technology, like the camera obscura, to get that result.

It's common knowledge that you can trace the images projected on the screen of a camera obscura, which is basically a black box with a lens mounted on one side. This helps you get the size and shapes of things established on the canvas. Intuitively it seems that you could paint colors right on the projected image and get a photoreal result.

In fact, this does not work. If you try it, you'll see why. The light projected by the lens obscures the color of the paint you are applying to the canvas. It makes the paint look too dark and too colorful. You must constantly turn on the light to see what color you have actually painted. There is simply no way to accurately compare the paint color to the projection. They interfere with each other.

Looking at Vermeer's paintings, it seemed to me that he must have had a way to not only trace the shapes, but capture the colors of a projected image. If he could do that, his paintings might be a form of photography, achieved not with film and chemicals, but with the human hand. Vermeer's paintings might be 350 year-old color photographs.

There are clues in Vermeer's paintings that he did this. For example, the white wall in the back of the room seen in The Music Lesson.

Stashed in: Art!, ART, @pennjillette

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

You May Also Like: