University of Arizona
The Science of Optics; The History of Art
Recently, renowned artist David Hockney observed that certain drawings and paintings from as early as the Renaissance seemed almost "photographic" in detail. Following an extensive visual investigation of western art of the past 1000 years, he made the revolutionary claim that artists even of the prominence of van Eyck and Bellini must have used optical aids. However, art historians insisted there was no supporting evidence for such a remarkable assertion. In this talk I show a wealth of optical evidence for his claim that Hockney and I subsequently discovered during an unusual, and remarkably productive, collaboration between an artist and a scientist. I also discuss the unique properties of the "mirror lens" (concave mirror), and some of the implications this work has for the history of science as well as the history of art. These discoveries convincingly demonstrate optical instruments were in use -- by artists, not scientists -- nearly 200 years earlier than previously even thought possible, and account for the remarkable transformation in the reality of portraits that occurred early in the 15th century. (For more information see http://www.optics.arizona.edu/ssd/FAQ.html)
Acknowledgments: This work was done in collaboration with David Hockney. We gratefully acknowledge David Graves (London), Ultan Guilfoyle (Guggenheim), Martin Kemp (Oxford U.), Masud Mansuripur (U. Arizona), Josť SasiŠn (U. Arizona), Richard Schmidt (Los Angeles), and Lawrence Weschler (The New Yorker) for a variety of valuable contributions to our efforts.