University of South Africa, Pretoria
 Susan Grundy
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Della Porta and the Inquisition

    


Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) was perhaps one of Clement VIII's most famous victims. This "heretic" was burnt at the stake in February 1600, basically for being a free thinker.

 

Despite his own evidence Gorman tries to use Della Porta’s 1589 camera obscura effect to criticize the theory that Caravaggio was using optical aids. Gorman claims that because of all those indirect links with Della Porta Caravaggio would have most definitely have had access to Della Porta’s new-improved camera obscura, and he would therefore not have had a lot of left-handed drinkers.41 (Actually I can only count one.) However the fact that it took Caravaggio ten years or so from the publication of Della Porta’s second edition of his book (with its advice for the new-improved camera obscura technology) to achieve the Contarelli paintings (done with life-size upright images) should come as no surprise. Firstly, Caravaggio was hardly able to pop down to Barnes & Noble and buy a copy the minute it rolled off the press. Secondly, there is no evidence that Caravaggio knew any Latin, the language of first publication, meaning he would have had to rely on Guidobaldo Del Monte’s reading and translation of the relevant experiments with camera obscura technology (and he only met Guidobaldo around 1595). Further, Della Porta’s books were, for a time, on the prohibited list and would have been extremely dangerous reading. Della Porta was arrested and charged by the Inquisition for his tricks, mainly for terrifying audiences with his magical camera obscura projections. His life was probably saved by the intercession of an aquaintance, one Cardinal Luigi D’Este, but in any case Della Porta’s books were placed on the prohibited index and he was forbidden to write about scientific or philosophic matters or to conduct any scientific experiments. The banning was only lifted in 1598.42 The Pope of the time Clement VIII Aldobrandini, was also not one to be trifled with. He stoked the fires of the Inquisition and sent some thirty people to the stake during his just over ten years on the Vatican throne.43 However, Gorman is one of those who is scathing of Hockney’s theories of “a conspiracy of silence.” He states that “the description [of Della Porta’s new-improved camera obscura] was public, and the device had in all likelihood been demonstrated theatrically by Della Porta himself in the fashionable salons of Rome and Naples.” It is difficult to assess if this is in fact true, but certainly Della Porta’s arrest by the Inquisition for his showmanship is a point Gorman conveniently overlooks.44


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