Vermeer’s Camera Obscura

It is claimed that over 100 years of speculation and controversy  the great seventeenth-century Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer, used the camera obscura to create some of the most famous images in Western art.

The so-called Vermeers Camera web site tries to uncover the truth about the painter’s possible knowledge of seventeenth-century optical science to develop his style and choice of subject matter.

In order to support the idea that Vermeer experimented with new technology , there are some interesting materials available in the web-page.

To begin with, we can find two books. The first one: Vermeer’s Camera: afterthoughts and a reply to critics, by Philip Steadman (27/03/2002), which thought it got a generally kind critical reception, there have been a few dubious notices by Vermeer scholars and curators of 17th century Dutch painting.

The book shows how it is possible to reconstruct the three-dimensional spaces seen in ten of Vermeer’ s paintings of domestic interiors, using a method of ‘inverse perspective’ (roughly speaking, a reversal of the normal procedures of perspective drawing).

Here you have some of the pictures shown throughout the pages:

Figure 10: Map of the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands by Claes Jansz Visscher (left) compared with Vermeer’s painted version in ‘Allegory of Painting’ (right). (The ornamental borders showing views of Dutch towns are omitted in both cases.)


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The second book, also written by Philip Staedman, is a brief chapter sypnoses with added images not found in the book. It starts with a review of how the camera obscura worked  throgout history and then we are moved into the subject of Vermer´s use of it, giving detailed examples and reconstructions of his paintings with great precision in order to demonstrate how the painter set up a camera obscura. Eventually,  the book concludes with a discussion of the influence of optical images on Vermeer´s work.

The following images belong to chapter 6 of the book:


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And finally, the most striking among the materials is  the three-dimensional computer models produced by Mr Yasuo Furuichi of Yokosuka City, Japan.

The images remain his copyright. Mr Furuichi has produced a short movie entitled ‘Before the Glass of Wine’, from which a series of stills are illustrated here. He is now working on models of all the pieces of furniture appearing in Vermeer’s paintings, which he is storing in ‘Vermeer’s warehouse’. He plans to make reconstructions of the three-dimensional spaces shown in some of those pictures where the floor tiles are not visible, and which were not reconstructed in ‘Vermeer’s Camera’ for that reason.


These are some of the models you can find in this section:

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