Vol. 24, No. 6
Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces
University Press, 2002 (ISBN 0-19-280302-6)
by Hans Bouma
like detective stories? No, not the ones in which the blood flows in
liters but the real ones, in which the detective, after finding a nail
clipping and a postage stamp of 39 eurocents is able to infer that the
suspects alibi is faulty. Or are doctoral dissertations more in
your line? Are you interested in art? And you are involved in education
in one of the sciences?
then you must not go past this book. It explains, step by step, with
compelling logic, that Vermeer used a camera obscura for his paintings,
in which room this happened, and which dimensions lens the camera had,
how the painter employed them, and how in that way the paintings were
produced. From the two dimensions of the paintings, Steadman is able
to derive the three dimensions of Vermeer's world.
chapters the logic line is drawn: first the camera obscura, then Vermeer
with testimonies that he worked with a camera obscura, an idea of the
room-studio and of the way the objects (their dimensions verified and
compared with reality) are grouped in this room, the reconstruction,
and the new evidence then forthcoming. To make sure, the author also
deals with the arguments which are contrary to the idea of the camera
with Vermeer, and he outlines the influence of it on his style of painting.
you can see how fertile the application of science to objects of art
is, this time not in connection with restorative activities, but to
penetrate more deeply into the work. Not all questions can be solved,
as Steadman honestly admits. But he also shows which tricks in perspective
are applied by the painter, and, in the last chapter, he succeeds in
penetrating into the artists soul.
is an elaborate account in notes and an impressive list of references.
The author, too, gives the impression that he is well versed in 17th-century
Delft and in Holland in general, and that renders the book even more
readable. He even is able to report that the bricks used in the houses
around the Delft market had, in those times, a length of 16 centimeters.
sense that I am terribly enthusiastic. My only refutation that I deemed
a length of 1.80 metres for a seventeenth century Dutchman quite sturdy
is disproved by clear evidence in the book.
about paintings by a great researcher of a great painter. Cordially
Bouma is an IUPAC Fellow and former member of the Committee on Teaching