The “Camera Obscura”


      The “Camera Obscura” which literary means “dark room” has been known since the time of Ibn al Haithem, an Arab scholar. It is a 19th century optical device and was usually used by artists such as Johannes Vermeer. This devise was used to make quick sketches in the field by the use of a pinhole in a window blind that forms an inverted image of an scene on an opposite wall of a dark room

This process was first described In 1568 by the Venetian Daniel Barbaro. He suggested that “the image would be improved by covering it with a disk having a small hole in the centre, a very early reference to stopping down a lens to increase the depth of focus”.

In 1685, Johann Zahn invented the box form of Camera Obscura. This was used for sketching. The tracing paper of the “Camera Obscura” was placed on the missing glass inside the folding hood and the image was reflected onto the paper by a 45° mirror placed inside the box.


 “This example is in the historical apparatus collection at Transylvania University, and is of the form used by William Henry Fox Talbot for his experiments with photography in the 1830s.”


3 responses to “The “Camera Obscura”

  1. The camera obscura shown on your site is from the National University of Ireland in Galway. Transylvania’s camera (not pictured here) is somewhat different in design and function. Although Transylvania’s camera can be (and has been)used as a camera obscura, it is actually an early daguerreotype camera. Transy’s camera can be seen in the color photograph at the top left of the Kenyon College website linked below your text.

    Jamie Day
    Curator, Moosnick Medical and Science Museum
    Transylvania University

  2. Regarding “The Music Lesson” and a possible revelation by Vermeer of his Camera Obscura use:
    Vermeer may have revealed the methodology of a CAMERA OBSCURA in this painting by, first, the inclusion of the MIRROR, which reflects a young woman’s visage, and the partial scene behind her. In the reflection there, he includes his painters easel and a “paintbox” that may be the wooden item in the foreground of the Geographer as well. It may also have seconded as his painter’s stool, as the low vanishing point on the girl’s sleeve may indicate. Without the mirror, the presence and dimensions of an absent artist would not be known. As it is revealed, the LEVEL OF THE ARTIST”S EYE, as the viewer may determine by the mirror’s image, is very likely at the point of a NAIL, located above the mirror’s ornamental hanging device. As, also, the nail in the Milkmaid was given significance in its absence, so the presence of the nail, here, has been given the place-of-honour as the pin- hole in Vermeer’s Camera. Vermeer, in a sense, paints himself outside the room, as though a reluctant voyeur, observing the scene through the pin-hole of the Camera.

Comments are closed.