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Proceedings Paper

Inferring Caravaggio's studio lighting and praxis in The calling of St. Matthew by computer graphics modeling
Author(s): David G. Stork; Gabor Nagy
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Paper Abstract

We explored the working methods of the Italian Baroque master Caravaggio through computer graphics reconstruction of his studio, with special focus on his use of lighting and illumination in The calling of St. Matthew. Although he surely took artistic liberties while constructing this and other works and did not strive to provide a "photographic" rendering of the tableau before him, there are nevertheless numerous visual clues to the likely studio conditions and working methods within the painting: the falloff of brightness along the rear wall, the relative brightness of the faces of figures, and the variation in sharpness of cast shadows (i.e., umbrae and penumbrae). We explored two studio lighting hypotheses: that the primary illumination was local (and hence artificial) and that it was distant solar. We find that the visual evidence can be consistent with local (artificial) illumination if Caravaggio painted his figures separately, adjusting the brightness on each to compensate for the falloff in illumination. Alternatively, the evidence is consistent with solar illumination only if the rear wall had particular reflectance properties, as described by a bi-directional reflectance distribution function, BRDF. (Ours is the first research applying computer graphics to the understanding of artists' praxis that models subtle reflectance properties of surfaces through BRDFs, a technique that may find use in studies of other artists.) A somewhat puzzling visual feature-unnoted in the scholarly literature-is the upward-slanting cast shadow in the upper-right corner of the painting. We found this shadow is naturally consistent with a local illuminant passing through a small window perpendicular to the viewer's line of sight, but could also be consistent with solar illumination if the shadow was due to a slanted, overhanging section of a roof outside the artist's studio. Our results place likely conditions upon any hypotheses concerning Caravaggio's working methods and point to new sources of evidence that could be confirmed or disconfirmed by future art historical research.

Paper Details

Date Published: 16 February 2010
PDF: 10 pages
Proc. SPIE 7531, Computer Vision and Image Analysis of Art, 753105 (16 February 2010); doi: 10.1117/12.840569
Show Author Affiliations
David G. Stork, Ricoh Innovations, Inc. (United States)
Gabor Nagy, Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. (United States)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 7531:
Computer Vision and Image Analysis of Art
David G. Stork; Jim Coddington; Anna Bentkowska-Kafel, Editor(s)

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