Did the great masters ‘cheat’ using optics? Computer image analysis of Renaissance masterpieces sheds light on a controversial theory.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - 8:21am

Dr. David Stork
Date: Wednesday, Sept 27,2006
Time: 3:00pm-4:00pm
Location:Trailer 932 Rm 101 CTL: Collaborative Technologies Lab


In 2001, artist David Hockney and scientist Charles Falco stunned the
art world with a controversial theory that, if correct, would profoundly
alter our view of the development of image making. They claimed that as
early as 1420, Renaissance artists employed optical devices such as
concave mirrors to project images onto their canvases, which they then
traced or painted over. In this way, the theory attempts to explain the
newfound heightened naturalism or “opticality” of painters such as Jan
van Eyck, Robert Campin, Hans Holbein the Younger, and many others.

This talk will describe the application of rigorous computer image
analysis to masterpieces adduced as evidence for this theory. It covers
basic geometrical optics of image projection, the analysis of
perspective, curved surface reflections, shadows, lighting and color.
While there remain some loose ends, such analysis of the paintings,
infra-red reflectograms, modern reenactments, internal consistency of
the theory, and alternate explanations allows us to judge with high
confidence the plausibility of this bold theory. You may never see
Renaissance paintings the same way

Joint work with Antonio Criminisi, Marco Duarte, M. Kimo Johnson and
Christopher W. Tyler.


David G. Stork is Chief Scientist of Ricoh Innovations and has taught
“Light, Color and Visual Phenomena,” “Pattern Classification,” “Optics,
perspective and Renaissance painting,” and other courses at Stanford
University. A graduate of MIT and U. Maryland, he also studied art
history at Wellesley College and was Artist-in-Residence through the New
York State Council of the Arts. He holds 33 patents and his five books
include *Seeing the Light: Optics in Nature, Photography, Color, Vision
and Holography* with D. Falk and D. Brill and *Pattern Classification*
(2nd ed.) with R. Duda and P. Hart. He was one of four scientists
invited to analyze Mr. Hockney’s theory at a major symposium at the New
York Institute for the Humanities in December 2001.

Host: Dr. Yuan-Fang Wang