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Caravaggio First to Use “˜Camera Obscura’ Approach

March 10, 2009

Sixteenth-century Italian artist Caravaggio used techniques closely related to the essence of photography when painting his subjects, according to researcher Roberta Lapucci of Florence.

Working in a “darkroom,” Caravaggio used a hole in the ceiling to shine light on his subject. That light was projected onto a canvas with a lens and mirror, Lapucci, who teaches at Studio Art Centers, told AFP.

Lapucci believes Caravaggio may have used a photoluminescent powder from crushed fireflies, which was used at the time to create special effects in theatre productions.

“The entire set-up was suggested to him by his friend Giovanni Battista Della Porta, a physicist,” Lapucci said. “Caravaggio was very tied to a community of scholars interested in optics.”

The technique was previously suggested by Leonardo da Vinci, who referred to it as the “camera obscura” technique. However, Caravaggio was the first to apply the method, Lapucci said.

Caravaggio was known to be enigmatic and rebellious. Lapucci hypothesizes that his attitude may have been partly influenced by his exposure to mercury, which was present in the concoctions used in theatre special effects.

“There is lots of proof, notably the fact that Caravaggio never made preliminary sketches,” Lapucci told AFP. “So it is plausible that he used these ‘projections’ to paint.”

“This anomaly disappears in the artist’s later works, a sign that the instruments he used were improving. Also thanks to technical progress, his paintings gain a lot in depth of field over the years.”

Image Caption: Chalk portrait of Caravaggio by Ottavio Leoni, c. 1621.

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