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



No matter how Vermeer did it, that’s a neat project and method.


Good spoiler! Was bummed I missed this in the theaters.

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How different is this from the 2000 Hockney-Falco Thesis where they suggest “that advances in realism and accuracy in the history of Western art since the Renaissance were primarily the result of optical aids such as the camera obscura, camera lucida, and curved mirrors, rather than solely due the development of artistic technique and skill”?


The interesting thing to me is the color difference in Vermeer’s and Jenison’s paintings. Vermeer’s colors were probably a lot brighter at the time he made his paintings–oxidation and dust have muted them somewhat. And that’s reflected in Jenison’s painting, which does look brighter.

Having seen some camera obscurae I’ve noticed that, depending on the light, the colors can look washed out, so I thought some artists might have used a camera obscura merely for tracing and added the colors later. Jenison’s explanation seems much more plausible.


I have massive problems with his ‘the human eye can’t see it, therefore he used a camera projection’ conclusion.
I’d like to know how he thinks Picasso did his painting, with a hall of mirrors?
He could have just painted the background in later, or how about this, he just made it up.
It also seems like this guy had all these great gadgets that he desperately wanted to use, and shoe-horned this ridiculous idea into using them.


Picasso painted after the invention of photography; the whole project of late 19th century painting through today has been to figure out what to paint when photography is available. Vermeer was not competing with photography, and painting was a very different undertaking at the time.

The thesis of the documentary is that, much like how early black-and-white photographic film responded disproportionately to certain colors (yellow produced a dark black in a way that a human unaware of this effect would probably not spontaneously decide to render with paint), the paintings show artifacts that one would only expect to see with optical apparatus.


It is basically testing the theory by doing it. And I think the exact method Tim used was unique.


Vermeer was also very secretive and didn’t want anybody copying his methods.


Yes, kudos for actually testing his method, but I don’t really see the point of recreating the exact room from Vermeer. Surely the method would be generalizable. It would be like recreating Newton’s experiments in “Opticks” by first building a replica of Newton’s house.


Because it was fun.


Perhaps it is covered in the full documentary, but the article glossed over the most interesting part to me. Why exactly couldn’t he have painted it using more conventional aids?

Also, Picasso and Duchamp painted after the invention of MOVING pictures, ie film, and were interested in capturing human movement (“Nude Descending a Staircase” comes to mind) in a static media.


Seems plausible. However I think better proof that a particular method was used to generate an image is to identify a way in which the generated image is incorrect and show that the images you hypothesize might have been generated in that way have that defect. The artifacts of the method are likely to be more specific than the fact that the results look good (because all methods are trying to make the results look good).

This, however, is nonsense:
"The way Vermeer painted this wall is consistent with a photograph. It is not consistent with human vision. If you were standing in the room that Vermeer painted, you would see that wall as a pretty even shade of off-white. "

I have only the barest of artistic training, and a bit of graphics programming experience and I can very clearly see that the brightness of the wall varies with proximity to the window which lets in the light and various obstruction (the fact that he is pointing at the picture and assuming we can all see the variation that the artist cannot possibly see makes the claim particularly absurd). I would assume that if I spent many years studying and practicing to be a realistic painter I would be vastly better at that. Even if some eye processing was muting the differences I’m sure at least a tiny minority of painters could learn to compensate with years of practice. One of the fundamental skills in painting and drawing is to learn to see the image in a less abstracted way.

Also the photograph shown clearly has much more brightness variation than either painting, particularly on the bit of ornate furniture the man is leaning on.


Don’t forget that Vermeer’s lifelong friend and ultimately the executor of his will was Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, who was the first to develop optical lenses with enough precision and resolution to see microscopic life for the first time.


Interesting, what artifacts were seen?

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The joke about Picasso still stands, whenever he existed. I was obviously making a comparison to a random impressionist artist within the structure of the discussion of realism, and what this ‘documentary’ allows an artist to do within the confines of the subject’s photographic bias.
Don’t pretend not to understand.
I personally find the ideas behind documentary weak, but that’s just my opinion, but hey believe what you want.

Picasso was not an Impressionist artist. And the Impressionists were more or less all explicitly unconcerned with realism (in the photographic sense).


With his imagination, of course. The advent of chemical photography made strict representation redundant, so late Romantic, Impressionist, and more recent movements have combined draftsmanship and accurate representation of the image with imaginative composition and other distortions. It’s not like making a camera obscura painting isn’t a lot of work or doesn’t take a lot of skill, despite Tim’s protestations (months/years of work later using modern modeling and machining to speed the process along), nor does it mean that the imaginative component must always have been the sole aim of representational art. Look at what Velasquez was able to do in comparison to Vermeer.

Chemical photography made one kind of art less amazing, so artists moved on to other techniques. It doesn’t make Vermeer a mere technician. Hell, chemical (and digital) photography manages to continue to be a respected medium of art.


Why are you even arguing about that? Who cares what pigeon-hole people want to put him in, call him Cubist if you want, I’m sure he’ll be delighted if you call him a sculptor as well.
This is just the same crowd that tries to intellectualize the the Mono Lisa.