Chapter 8: Arguments against Vermeer's use of the camera


A number of writers on Vermeer have questioned the feasibility of a camera technique, or doubted the possibility that he might have copied camera images more or less in their entirety. Camera obscuras in the 17th century were not useable for painting, the images they produced were too poor, lenses of sufficient size would not have been available to Vermeer. This chapter takes on these criticisms and offers counter-arguments both technical and historical. Some art historians have proposed that Vermeer used other techniques to set up his perspectives: tracing over images in mirrors, or following standard mathematical methods as set out in perspective manuals. Steadman argues that these may be plausible and feasible methods in themselves: but that there is little or no evidence in Vermeer’s paintings to support such suggestions. There are no drawn outlines or other marks of perspective construction beneath Vermeer’s paint surfaces. Most decisively, there is no apparent way in which a mathematical perspective method (or a method involving mirrors) would produce the peculiar geometry described in Chapter 6, which is so simply accounted for by a camera technique.

Perspective projection of an interior with objects, from Hendrik Hondius's 'Institutio artis perspectivae', The Hague, 1622.
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