Optics and renaissance art

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


Recent discoveries have shown that optical projections were used in the creation of European paintings as early as 1425, well over a century before the time of Galileo (Hockney, Secret knowledge: rediscovering the lost techniques of the old masters, 2001). These discoveries provide an explanation for the sudden transformation to realism that long had been noted by art historians but whose cause had not been previously understood (“It remains a source of continual astonishment that so hinfinitely complex a genre [as the portrait] should develop in so brief a space of time, indeed within only a few decades of the fifteenth century…" Schneider, Norbert (1999) The Art of the Portrait. Taschen). As shown below, these discoveries demonstrate that optical projections were incorporated in features within paintings of artists as influential as Jan van Eyck who worked at the cusp between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. As art historian Laurie Fendrich noted (Fendrich, Chron High Educ 53(36):B20, 2002), this work “shakes the foundations of much of art history, as well as realist paintings as an art form.” Here we describe in some detail some of the optical evidence exhibited within four paintings by four major artists during a period of approximately 100 years between c1425 and 1532: Jan van Eyck, Lorenzo Lotto, Hans Holbein the Younger, and Robert Campin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationOptics in Our Time
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9783319319032
ISBN (Print)9783319319025
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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