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Art historians have long speculated on how Vermeer achieved the uncanny mixture of detached precision, compositional repose, and perspective accuracy that have drawn many to describe his work as "photographic." Indeed, many wonder if Vermeer employed a camera obscura, a primitive form of camera, to enhance his realistic effects? In Vermeer's Camera, Philip Steadman traces t Art historians have long speculated on how Vermeer achieved the uncanny mixture of detached precision, compositional repose, and perspective accuracy that have drawn many to describe his work as "photographic." Indeed, many wonder if Vermeer employed a camera obscura, a primitive form of camera, to enhance his realistic effects? In Vermeer's Camera, Philip Steadman traces the development of the camera obscura--first described by Leonaro da Vinci--weighs the arguments that scholars have made for and against Vermeer's use of the camera, and offers a fascinating examination of the paintings themselves and what they alone can tell us of Vermeer's technique. Vermeer left no record of his method and indeed we know almost nothing of the man nor of how he worked. But by a close and illuminating study of the paintings Steadman concludes that Vermeer did use the camera obscura and shows how the inherent defects in this primitive device enabled Vermeer to achieve some remarkable effects--the slight blurring of image, the absence of sharp lines, the peculiar illusion not of closeness but of distance in the domestic scenes. Steadman argues that the use of the camera also explains some previously unexplainable qualities of Vermeer's art, such as the absence of conventional drawing, the pattern of underpainting in areas of pure tone, the pervasive feeling of reticence that suffuses his canvases, and the almost magical sense that Vermeer is painting not objects but light itself. Drawing on a wealth of Vermeer research and displaying an extraordinary sensitivity to the subtleties of the work itself, Philip Steadman offers in Vermeer's Camera a fresh perspective on some of the most enchanting paintings ever created.


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Art historians have long speculated on how Vermeer achieved the uncanny mixture of detached precision, compositional repose, and perspective accuracy that have drawn many to describe his work as "photographic." Indeed, many wonder if Vermeer employed a camera obscura, a primitive form of camera, to enhance his realistic effects? In Vermeer's Camera, Philip Steadman traces t Art historians have long speculated on how Vermeer achieved the uncanny mixture of detached precision, compositional repose, and perspective accuracy that have drawn many to describe his work as "photographic." Indeed, many wonder if Vermeer employed a camera obscura, a primitive form of camera, to enhance his realistic effects? In Vermeer's Camera, Philip Steadman traces the development of the camera obscura--first described by Leonaro da Vinci--weighs the arguments that scholars have made for and against Vermeer's use of the camera, and offers a fascinating examination of the paintings themselves and what they alone can tell us of Vermeer's technique. Vermeer left no record of his method and indeed we know almost nothing of the man nor of how he worked. But by a close and illuminating study of the paintings Steadman concludes that Vermeer did use the camera obscura and shows how the inherent defects in this primitive device enabled Vermeer to achieve some remarkable effects--the slight blurring of image, the absence of sharp lines, the peculiar illusion not of closeness but of distance in the domestic scenes. Steadman argues that the use of the camera also explains some previously unexplainable qualities of Vermeer's art, such as the absence of conventional drawing, the pattern of underpainting in areas of pure tone, the pervasive feeling of reticence that suffuses his canvases, and the almost magical sense that Vermeer is painting not objects but light itself. Drawing on a wealth of Vermeer research and displaying an extraordinary sensitivity to the subtleties of the work itself, Philip Steadman offers in Vermeer's Camera a fresh perspective on some of the most enchanting paintings ever created.

30 review for Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bart

    This is best considered a history book, though not a book about the history of its subject, Jan Vermeer, but rather a history about the creation of a book and a model and a BBC special by Philip Steadman about the works of Jan Vermeer. This book is an exquisitely detailed account of its author's approach to creating a model that proved to him Vermeer indeed used a camera obscura. One imagines the Family Steadman and a few close friends, some perhaps even drafted into helping create Steadman's mod This is best considered a history book, though not a book about the history of its subject, Jan Vermeer, but rather a history about the creation of a book and a model and a BBC special by Philip Steadman about the works of Jan Vermeer. This book is an exquisitely detailed account of its author's approach to creating a model that proved to him Vermeer indeed used a camera obscura. One imagines the Family Steadman and a few close friends, some perhaps even drafted into helping create Steadman's models or taking measurements for him, find this sort of thing entirely amusing. For everyone else, though, it suffers from 10-page spells unlikely to benefit anyone uninterested in recreating Steadman's models, which is not at all the same as being uninterested in recreating Vermeer's masterworks. Perhaps this book is better described as a manual, then, and not a history book. It is persuasive, maybe, in the boorish and filibustering way lonely men in lab coats can be. But it is not persuasive in any enjoyable way. If you believe Vermeer used a camera obscura, you soldier on till the bitter end (and as an ironic reward, the final paragraph features the book's best writing). If you don't believe Vermeer used anything but God-given talent, you probably put the book down after its 10th page. If you want persuasive writing and captivating arguments about this same subject, though, read David Hockney's Secret Knowledge. Otherwise, visit this book's accompanying website, first, and then picture yourself reading 150 pages about how the website was put together. Steadman's undertaking was a noble, important one; it just wasn't material for a book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lloyd Downey

    There has been a huge amount of speculation about Johannes Vermeer's paintings. It is generally agreed that the perspective is too perfect and so it is suspected that he must have used some sort of mechanical contrivance to help him get the right perspective. This particular book pursues the idea that Vermeer used some sort of camera obcscura. (Basically a very large pin-hole camera ...and in this case, probably with a convex lens). I have read a book by David Hockney where he makes a case for V There has been a huge amount of speculation about Johannes Vermeer's paintings. It is generally agreed that the perspective is too perfect and so it is suspected that he must have used some sort of mechanical contrivance to help him get the right perspective. This particular book pursues the idea that Vermeer used some sort of camera obcscura. (Basically a very large pin-hole camera ...and in this case, probably with a convex lens). I have read a book by David Hockney where he makes a case for Vermeer using a camera lucida (which is not really a camera at all but ...usually some sort of crystal of calcite which doubly refracts the light so you can see the image with one eye and draw the image with the other). I also recall reading an article (I think) in Scientific America where they compared Vermeer's drawing of a chandelier with a camera version ....As I recall they concluded that it was not exact but he probably had used something like a camera obscura. The current book goes into great detail about whether Vermeer had access to the technology, How it was possible for him to employ the techniques of the camera obscura? And, although the documentation seems totally absent they are able to make a reasonable case for Vermeer to have had access to the technology and to have employed it. They even go to the trouble to actually make models and full sized sets to see the kind of views that Vermeer would have had. they do devote a lot of effort to describing how Vermeer's paintings are blurry where they might have been blurry because of vignetting or because of problems focussing his lens. Actually, I'm not totally convinced by this sort of argument. For Vermeer to use the camera obscura, he didn't have to sit inside his darkened box the whole time. All he really needed to do was to establish the main lines of his painting and afterwards he could have totally done away with the device and compared colours directly with the real model etc. It's actually very difficult to trace directly over a photographic image and paint to that image......mainly because real life objects often or generally don't have nice hard lines outlining them. A three dimensional face, for example has shadows and tones but doesn't have a nice neat outline which can be traced. Sure you can trace something like the outline but one has to be prepared, when painting, to replace that hard line with slightly darker tones....depending on the lighting. It's actually rather amusing that people should consider this "cheating". The artists were happy to use every tool at their disposal to give a close likeness to reality. Durer actually illustrates some techniques implying threads and a sighting point. Am I convinced that Vermeer used a camera obscura like device? Well pretty much. Does it matter to me? No. Not really. I guess my main interest in the subject is curiosity and in the detective work that has gone into proving the case. An interesting book. Maybe becoming a little tedious with all the effort to prove a point but without any documentary evidence. I give it 3.5 stars.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    I first watched the documentary Tim’s Vermeer which lead me to this book. The writing is dry and reads like a textbook, however as an architect and painter the content was fascinating. It helped that I read it in conjunction with The Forger’s Spell by Edward Dolnick which helped make the content of this book relevant and more exciting.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Witt

    Read in about 2016-17. An interesting look at how Vermeer developed the art of using an enclosed box to get a view of what he was painting.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    Definitely makes a convincing case for Vermeer's use of the camera obscura. Steadman summarizes the existing arguments for and against, and does some research involving the physical dimensions and layout of the rooms Vermeer painted. Then he tests his theories by building small models and full-scale models. It seems to me that Steadman's work should fit very nicely with the film Tim's Vermeer (which I have seen clips of, but haven't seen yet). I expect Tim's technique will fill the gaps that Ste Definitely makes a convincing case for Vermeer's use of the camera obscura. Steadman summarizes the existing arguments for and against, and does some research involving the physical dimensions and layout of the rooms Vermeer painted. Then he tests his theories by building small models and full-scale models. It seems to me that Steadman's work should fit very nicely with the film Tim's Vermeer (which I have seen clips of, but haven't seen yet). I expect Tim's technique will fill the gaps that Steadman has left unanswered in this book. It's not a particularly engaging read, but it is a thorough examination of the question of whether Vermeer used the camera obscura, and it summarizes neatly the information known up to that point. It certainly seems to be a fine book to read after (or before) seeing the movie "Tim's Vermeer".

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ian Kloester

    If you've ever felt humbled by the dutch master, read Vermeers Camera and you realise the gap isn't as unclosable as many would have you believe. His use of a lens to outline his paintings was smart and the mark of a perfectionist. Of course, filling in the lines like he does is another story altogether, but at least his superior perspectives are achievable by all willing to use the tools. If you've ever felt humbled by the dutch master, read Vermeers Camera and you realise the gap isn't as unclosable as many would have you believe. His use of a lens to outline his paintings was smart and the mark of a perfectionist. Of course, filling in the lines like he does is another story altogether, but at least his superior perspectives are achievable by all willing to use the tools.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    This is a very academic book and I'd say the documentary Tim's Vermeer is more entertaining. But this is still approachable, and relatively short. This is a very academic book and I'd say the documentary Tim's Vermeer is more entertaining. But this is still approachable, and relatively short.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Kent

    perspective, mystery, optics, still life, tone, light, shadow, mirrors.... wonderful

  9. 4 out of 5

    Heather Harris

  10. 5 out of 5

    Meconopsis Lingholm

  11. 5 out of 5

    Brandy Gale

  12. 5 out of 5

    David

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pac Mclaurin

  14. 4 out of 5

    Novysan

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rob

  17. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Michael

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nuran Ozkam

  19. 4 out of 5

    cecelohajoti

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nate Hendrix

  21. 5 out of 5

    J

  22. 4 out of 5

    Harriet Rimell

  23. 5 out of 5

    Beth

  24. 5 out of 5

    3pipenet

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tom Smith

  26. 5 out of 5

    Alexa Segur

  27. 5 out of 5

    K.W.van den Heuvel

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kat

  29. 5 out of 5

    Heath

  30. 4 out of 5

    A. L.

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