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Proceedings Paper

Did Georges de la Tour use optical projections while painting Christ in the Carpenter’s Studio?
Author(s): David G. Stork
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Paper Abstract

Recently it has been theorized that some painters as early as 1420 used concave mirrors (and, later, converging lenses) to project real inverted images onto their supports which they then traced and painted over. We consider a specific painting adduced as evidence for this bold theory, the Lorainnese Baroque master Georges de la Tour’s Christ in the carpenter’s studio (1645). We perform analyses of the reflections and shadows -- “cast” shadows and “form” shadows -- to infer the source(s) of illumination. We find compelling evidence that this source is the candle flame depicted within the painting and held by Christ. We find it implausible that the source is direct solar illumination, which has the intensity demanded by the projection theory, or artificial illumination as hypothesized by theory proponents. Similar analyses of several other paintings by de la Tour uniformly support the conclusion that the illumination is small and artificial within the space of the tableau (i.e., a candle), not extremely powerful illumination from outside the tableau. We created a very simple computer graphics model to test and illustrate part of our conclusions. Our research is the first application of technical shadow analysis to the question whether artists as early as the 15th century used optical projections when painting. Careful reading of the historical record of de la Tour’s working methods supports our technical results and extend the growing image analytic methods and historical sources rebutting the theory.

Paper Details

Date Published: 14 March 2005
PDF: 6 pages
Proc. SPIE 5685, Image and Video Communications and Processing 2005, (14 March 2005); doi: 10.1117/12.582984
Show Author Affiliations
David G. Stork, Ricoh Innovations (United States)
Stanford Univ. (United States)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 5685:
Image and Video Communications and Processing 2005
Amir Said; John G. Apostolopoulos, Editor(s)

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