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Proceedings Paper

Did early Renaissance painters trace optical projections? Evidence pro and con
Author(s): David G. Stork
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Paper Abstract

Recently it has been theorized that some European 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 review the image analytic, historical and art historical evidence and counter-evidence for this bold claim, focusing on key paintings in the debate. While some of the evidence is consistent with the use of optical projections in the 15th century, all such evidence is also consistent with other explanations as well. More importantly, for those paintings highlighted as supporting the projection theory, there is much evidence that is inconsistent with the use of optics or extremely difficult to explain as arising from the use of optics. Further, there is no historical documentary evidence from the 15th century suggesting anyone had even seen an image of an illuminated object projected onto a screen -- the first step in the proposed projection method. The projection method would have been the most sophisticated optical procedure of its day, which theory proponents speculate was discovered by artists, not the scientists who were actively exploring optical systems. Because the burden of proof lies foursquare upon the theory’s proponents -- the revisionists -- in the absence of compelling reasons to reject “traditional” (non-optical) explanations we must reject the projection theory. We conclude by rejecting the claims that the optical projection theory has been “proven.”

Paper Details

Date Published: 17 January 2005
PDF: 7 pages
Proc. SPIE 5675, Vision Geometry XIII, (17 January 2005); doi: 10.1117/12.593988
Show Author Affiliations
David G. Stork, Ricoh Innovations, Inc. (United States)
Stanford Univ. (United States)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 5675:
Vision Geometry XIII
Longin Jan Latecki; David M. Mount; Angela Y. Wu, Editor(s)

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