University of South Africa, Pretoria
 Susan Grundy
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With this evidence it is difficult to sustain Gorman’s dismissal of Hockney’s theories (about Caravaggio) against what is known about Della Porta. Caravaggio must have begun to experiment with a different lens system around the mid-1590s, as by 1600 he was able to stun the world with his San Luigi paintings, Matthew Called and Matthew Killed.48 Regardless of these possibilities – most of them known to Hockney rebutters – scientists like David Stork remain with the feeling that they have settled everything against the use of optical aids by early “masters,” such as Caravaggio. But then David Stork also spends pages trying to refute Hockney with the wrong lens. And he confidently asserts “there are no historical records before 1598 … of any concave mirror being used to project an image except through burning.”49 This “fact” would have been enough to blow my careful chronology for Caravaggio right out of the water, except that it was actually Michael Gorman (also a Hockney detractor) who contradicted this by pointing out that Della Porta, in his 1558 edition of Natural Magic, describes exactly how to use a concave mirror to project an image, and this is long before Stork’s cut-off point of 1598.50 Further, Gorman has also gotten himself muddled up on a vital art-historical point in believing that Caravaggio’s Contarelli Matthew paintings are frescoes. Caravaggio was not a fresco painter and Matthew Called and Matthew Killed as illustrated by Gorman in his article,51 are oil on canvas (all three metres by three metres each of them). It is hard to imagine how Caravaggio could have squeezed models and camera obscura into a chapel while he was working on a “fresco,” but the point is erroneous and therefore irrelevant.



Caravaggio's Matthew Killed (1599-1600). The angel, the slayer, even Matthew, all appear to be right-handed.


Nevertheless it does appear from the preceding discussion, that it may not have been a simple artistic-technological development from concave mirror to biconvex lens as postulated by David Hockney. It may have been a matter of choice of which lens to use and why. It is also evident that Hockney was essentially wrong in his guess that the biconvex lens was first used around the time of the Uffizi Bacchus and that this lasted for some thirty years52 (the left-handed myth). By 1600 Caravaggio was much further advanced than the inverted and reversed image that this lens projects. Hockney has himself made inaccurate comments, and the wide scope of Secret Knowledge can be somewhat misleading. However, Stork and Gorman have also reproduced certain flaws in their arguments. There appears to be a deep-seated collective paranoia attached to the possibility that the camera lurks within the art-historical canon, and this may have engendered an unnecessary and quite furious territorialism. From my own point of view, writers like Stork and Gorman have not convinced me that David Hockney is wrong about Caravaggio using a camera obscura projection to trace from. Clearly there is plenty of ground to believe that Caravaggio indeed did.


© Susan Audrey Grundy

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