Freshman Seminar - Changing Perspectives: the science of optics in the visual arts





Vermeer's Officer and Laughing GirlRenaissance artists developed many techniques to create stunningly realistic representations of the natural world. From a two-dimensional visual  image on the retina, the human brain effortlessly comprehends its three dimensional surroundings. But faithfully transferring threedimensional information to a canvas – a sense of depth, the play of light on surface and shadow, proper geometrical perspective – is remarkably hard to do. Here, we will discuss how Renaissance artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Vermeer might have used ideas from optics to enhance the accuracy of their artistry. We will consider how devices like pinhole cameras, mirrors, and lenses might have helped Old Masters see more deeply and create images more faithfully. We will build and use versions of such devices to create our own drawings and paintings. We will look closely at selected masterpieces to assess whether or how tools were used. This seminar is recommended for students with interests in science and art. Optical science will be learned, tested, and put into practice in the studio with paint and pencil.

 Renaissance perspective machine depicted by da Vinci