Vermeer’s Camera Obscura

This optical device makes it possible to obtain the projection of an image onto a surface opposite the opening in the camera. The camera obscura is one of the oldest known optical instruments, and lead to the development of photography; today we still use our “camera”… The first mention of it dates back to the 5th century B.C. by the Chinese philosopher Mo-Ti. A century later Aristotle confirmed those observations by constructing the first camera oscura. But it was not until the 17th century that lens were introduced into the camera, greatly improving definition and brightness. Several artists, in particular Johannes Vermeer, studied the phenomena and were capable of painting representations of reality as never before, with a camera like the one we have built. In 1822 Joseph Nicèphore Niépce, considered the first photographer in history, discovered how to permanently fix an image on paper with bitumen judaicum, thanks to the camera oscura.

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One of the very first photographs, “The Set Table”, by Niépce, 1822.