Chapter 1: The camera obscura

The book begins with an explanation of how the camera obscura works. Chapter 1 follows the history of the instrument, from the first references in classical and mediaeval literature up to the 18th century. Different types of camera are described. Some took the form of darkened rooms, booths or tents; others were enclosed in boxes like photographic cameras. The chapter ends with a question: how much did Dutch artists know about the camera in the mid-17th century, when Vermeer was working? Some evidence is provided by the memoirs of Constantijn Huygens, secretary to the Prince of Orange and father of the astronomer Christiaan, and by the painter Samuel van Hoogstraten’s book 'Introduction to the Great School of Painting'.

Cubicle-type camera obscura illustrated by Athanasius Kircher in 'Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae', 1646. This actually incorporates two cameras facing in opposite directions. In either case, the artist sees the image (upside-down) on the back of a translucent screen.

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