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2019.07.13

For centuries, art admirers have been captivated by the rich, photograph-like detail in the paintings of Western art's great masters. But were the scenes immortalized by such greats as da Vinci and Rembrandt solely the product of artistic genius, or did the masters have a little help?
  British artist David Hockney has turned the art world upside down by theorizing that the masters used lenses to facilitate their work. He demonstrates his theory by dividing his studio in half with heavy drapery. At one end of the studio. a model sits under intense light. A transparent glass lens k fitted into a small opening in the curtains, and when a beam of light shines through, an upside-down image of the model is projected onto a canvas in the opposite, darkened end of the studio. Projections like these, he claims, could be used to quickly trace the outlines of a complex scene.
  Hockncy insists, though, that the masters were not cheating. “Projection don’t make marks,” he emphasizes. “Only artists do that. If you think you can look at a projection, pull out a paintbrush, and produce a van Eyck or a Caravaggie, think again,” He does argue, however, that painters likely used this simple technique to help capture some of the powerful detail that we admire today
  Hockney has painstakingly tested his theory and found intriguing evidence to support it. He notes that transparent lenses not only turn images upside down, but also reverse them from left to right. Interestingly, during a period when he believes artists first began to experiment with transparent lenses, we find many of the subjects portrayed as left-handed. He points to a Dutch painting as an example: it portrays two reveling male peasants, a woman, and a mischievous monkey-all of them left-handed. “What are the chances that the artist found not only three left-handed models, but a left-handed monkey to boot”" laughs Hockney.
  While critics reject the notion that geniuses such as Michelangelo would have needed fuzzy images to assist them, Hoclcney's popularity on the lecture circuit suggests that his theory will continue to attract attention for some time to come.

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