Vermeer’s secret revealed? Automatic translate
One of the most famous living artists, David Hockney, published a book in which he suggested that Johannes Vermeer, like many 17th-century artists, used a pinhole camera to create their unusually realistic paintings. But how do you know if this is possible at all, and is the professional use of an optical device enough to write real masterpieces, and if so, how exactly did it help artists?
The inventor from Texas Tim Jenison decided to answer this question, about the historical experiment of which the illusionists Penn and Teller (Penn & Teller) shot a documentary. It was they who recorded on the film all the stages of preparation and implementation of the ambitious plan of Janison - to completely repeat the picture of the great Dutchman, relying only on technology and not having any artistic experience.
In the history of art, Jan Vermeer is almost as mysterious and incomprehensible as William Shakespeare in literature. Admitted to the local Dutch guild of artists in 1653 at the age of just 21 years old, Vermeer was not previously listed in the apprenticeship of any artist. However, he immediately begins to write masterpieces in an incredible, photographically accurate manner.
This mysterious appearance of Vermeer on the stage of art history gave rise to many rumors that the artist used an optical device to paint his paintings, which helped him create his works. However, until now, the romantic world of art has remained adamant in its belief that even if a mysterious device existed, only the master’s genius and his amazingly precise eye created those magnificent masterpieces that we can now observe.
Tim Jenison, 58, from Texas, knew nothing of the hype surrounding Vermeer’s paintings. He lived quietly in his city, where he founded the NewTek company, making a fortune by inventing hardware and software for video production. In his free time, he worked as a tinsmith, building giant models of airplanes and combat robots.
Everything changed in 2002, when one of his daughters, then still a student at the University of the Rhode Island School of Design, advised him to read David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge. The idea of an optical device, thanks to which you can independently write a masterpiece of painting, has sunk into the heart of Tim, who worked all his life with the reproduction and manipulation of visual images. It was his experience, thanks to which Jenison knew exactly the nuances of how our eyes see the picture, and how the camera displays it, suggested to the inventor that Hockney is probably right.
Then tinman Tim Jenison decided to fully reproduce one of Vermeer’s paintings, constructing an analog of an optical apparatus that could be used in the 1600s, and accurately reproducing the scene of one of the artist’s paintings in his workshop.
The preparation of the project took 5 years. First of all, Jenison visited Amsterdam to personally see Vermeer’s masterpieces. “I seemed to see, the first thing that caught my eye was the photographic shades in his paintings. Vermeer painted such color nuances that his eye simply could not see, ”says the Texan.
After that, Jenison traveled to the artist’s homeland again and again. He learned to read in Dutch, studied all the surviving literature on optics and engineering of the time, paid for the translation of even older Latin texts on this topic. As a result, he managed to understand exactly how this apparatus works: a real image was projected onto a canvas or paper using a lens and a mirror located at a certain angle. Moreover, the projected image was bright and clear enough to reproduce it on paper. Such a projection allows you to create a picture, precisely repeating the color nuances of the projected image, without allowing the artist to make a mistake.
Janison’s first experiment was to transfer to paper black and white photographs of his father. For five hours of painstaking work, the inventor received an exact copy of the photograph created by him - a man who had never before taken a brush in his hands. This experiment showed that the use of optics can guarantee the exact transfer of images to paper, regardless of the artist’s artistic abilities.
The next stage of preparation was the exact recreation of the interior depicted on the canvas of the Dutch artist “The Music Lesson”. Jenison personally created a replica of the 15th century harpsichord from wood, covering its entire surface with intricate carvings. Actors were also hired, dressed in exact copies of the costumes of the heroes of Vermeer’s painting, posing for the aspiring artist. Even the lighting of the room was accurately recreated. The window of the room was located at the same angle to the sun as the Vermeer workshop in Delft, and behind the window was a false facade of the Dutch building, which stood on the other side of the canal, opposite the artist’s house.
The process turned out to be much more time-consuming than Jenison had originally suggested. It turned out that modern lenses are not suitable for reconstructing images using a pinhole camera. The inventor and they had to do it yourself, having studied the technology of melting and grinding glass of the 17th century. For the palette, only the pigments available to artists in the 1600s were used, some of which Jenison himself extracted from minerals.
The creation of the image itself was extremely time-consuming - it took exactly 100 days, from the first to the last stroke. As the experimenter himself admitted, he was so tired that he would give up everything if not for making the film. 2400 hours of captured video turned into an 80-minute tape called Tim’s Vermeer. The documentary will be released by Sony in February next year.
Jenison created the image on separate fragments projected onto the canvas. Having spent 8 months creating an absolute copy of the room and lighting conditions, now the inventor could not look at the Vermeer painting and relied only on what he saw in front of him. Through trial and error, he selected colors, starting with the simplest elements of the picture. His daughter helped the painter with the technique of applying strokes a little, but as the experimenter himself says, at the beginning of the journey his work looked awful, but towards the end of the project - the last stage was the carpet - his technique was very good. “But that doesn’t mean that I can sit down and draw anything without optics,” Jenison says with a laugh.
When Tim Jenison began his work, he was 80% sure that Vermeer used a pinhole camera. When the inventor finished his experiment, his confidence grew to 90%. A study by Janison of the original picture using surgical lenses increased his confidence to 95%. But there were another 5% who greatly embarrassed the experimenter - this was a counterargument cited as opposed to Hockney’s theory. If Vermeer used such a sophisticated optical device, how did he manage to keep it secret? Why is there no evidence or description of this fact?
The essence of the denial of the idea that Vermeer invented and used an optical device, in addition to technical and historical issues, is that it destroys our sense of reverence for the genius of the artist. All the great artists at all times used new tools and technologies, but not every person who owns technology can create masterpieces. Most people want to believe in magic, that artists are some kind of supernatural beings, and not just ordinary people who own technique and technology. Tim Jenison’s experiment will undoubtedly transform the world of art, but the inventor himself says that he understood one thing - an artist can use any technical achievements, but this will not change the fact that an incredible amount of effort and talent is needed to create a masterpiece.
Anna Sidorova © Gallerix.ru
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