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Proceedings Paper

Asymmetry in Lotto carpets and its implication for Hockney's optical projection theory
Author(s): David G. Stork
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Paper Abstract

Recently the artist David Hockney theorized that some European painters as early as 1420 used concave mirrors and, later, converging lenses, to project real inverted images onto their canvases or other supports which they then traced and painted over. We consider a specific painting adduced as the primary evidence for this bold theory by Hockney and his collaborator, thin-film physicist Charles Falco: Lorenzo Lotto’s Husband and wife (c. 1543). These projection theorists attribute perspective anomalies in the painting to Lotto repositioning a concave mirror, specifically to overcome its limitations in depth of field. Their analysis lies thoroughly and crucially upon the assumption that the physical carpet pattern was symmetric. We point to a study of “Lotto carpets” surviving in museum collections that shows that these comparison carpets are significantly asymmetric. There seems to be no persuasive independent evidence to support the projection proponents’ assumption that these carpets, hand-knotted by children in 16th-century Turkey, were symmetric. Moreover, the angular asymmetries in these surviving carpets are nearly the same as those corresponding to the anomalies in the painting, strongly suggesting that these “anomalies” are in fact due to inherent carpet asymmetries, not to changes in configuration of an optical projector. We show that a non-optical explanation can fit the visual evidence with a precision roughly equal to that of the projection theory, but without the need to invoke a complicated, undocumented optical system. Finally, had Lotto used such an optical projector, we would expect both the general historical documentary record and Lotto’s own writings to indicate as much; however no such corroboratory evidence exists. We conclude by rejecting the numerous claims of “proof” that Lotto used optical projections when executing this painting.

Paper Details

Date Published: 18 March 2005
PDF: 7 pages
Proc. SPIE 5666, Human Vision and Electronic Imaging X, (18 March 2005); doi: 10.1117/12.601938
Show Author Affiliations
David G. Stork, Ricoh Innovations, Inc. (United States)
Stanford Univ. (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 5666:
Human Vision and Electronic Imaging X
Bernice E. Rogowitz; Thrasyvoulos N. Pappas; Scott J. Daly, Editor(s)

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