Beleive it or not, I recently attended a lecture on Physics. Normally, I would not do such a thing, but I made a exception in this case, because the subject was the use of the science of optics in the work of the great Renaissance masters. The speaker was physicist Charles Falco, who had got together with the artist David Hockney and hypothesized that mirrors were used in some 14th century paintings to provide the amazing details found in the images. The method that they say was used is that a mirror would provide a reflection of an image onto a wall, which would then be traced, transferred to a canvas and completed in paint. A more indepth explanation/analysis of the technique can be found here. A case in point is the above painting - the Arnolfini Marriage by Van Eyk. Falco supposed that the image of the chandelier was painted with the aid of optics, which he explained with the use of physics (I have to admit, he kind of lost me here) but all in all, I found it an interesting and convincing lecture. I am of the opinion that it's entirely possible that optics were used in the creation of some masterworks, but this opinion is highly controversial. I don't think that using such an aid takes away from the artist's skill, or is in any way "cheating." It's just an aid, the way that photography is used as an aid to artists in creating their works today.Another, less "sciencey" bit of evidence that was presented was that in the 1400's representation suddenly changed from flat two dimensional images (as in the first two pictures above) to fully realized, photo type images (as below). Going to an art exhibit and questioning this change is what led Hockney to propose this hypothesis.
Anyhow, I find this really fascinating, but I don't think that my writing does the subject any justice. Especially this morning - feeling very cranky. I have to note that I have been trying to do this post for a few days, but my crappy computer keeps crashing! I spent most of the day yesterday in mega computer warehouses, debating the merits of a 64 bit system versus dual-core technology with my husband and a series of pushy salesmen (salesboys - is that a word?), who had barely emerged from puberty. Hopefully, this torture wasn't for naught,and by next week double happiness will be brought to you by a shiny new laptop. But for now, I think that a nice hot shower and a second cup of coffee will change my outlook on life.