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On the Other Hand:
a positive look at Caravaggio and the camera obscura
by Susan Grundy
- Is there evidence that Caravaggio used camera obscura technology?
- Have scientists like David Stork and Michael John Gorman finished off the “Hockney” debate?
- Did the chronological development in camera obscura technology fit Hockney’s claims for Caravaggio?
This article outlines some of the specific evidence, to be found in the pictorial and in the documentary record, that makes a plausible case for the extensive use of optical aids by the seventeenth-century Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi (da Caravaggio).
Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus (1610). St Peter's right hand is relationally larger than his left. Is this a result of an error caused by Caravaggio's use of camera obscura technology?
Hockney’s hands offend
In Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus (1601)1 Saint Peter’s right hand appears relationally larger than his left. Contemporary artist David Hockney grabs this visual lapse in concentration as evidence of Caravaggio’s use of the camera obscura. He explains this hand anomaly as “a consequence of movements of lens and canvas [backwards and forwards] when refocusing because of depth-of-field problems,”2 expanding on the extraordinary theory that Caravaggio not only manipulated the natural camera obscura effect (reflection onto a canvas) but also a lens (projection onto a canvas). The image was then traced and resulted in a highly detailed realism. And it was a method Hockney states, that artists kept to themselves.3 However, it would appear the world is not ready to accept that Caravaggio’s genius was simply human, and have readily rejected Hockney’s theories. For example, scientist David Stork has addressed what he sees as “the awkward implications of the theory related to refocusing, moving the canvas, and illumination,”4 specifically in relation to Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus. Are these “awkward implications,” which Stork thinks he has identified, enough to annihilate Hockney’s theory?
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