View Full Version : Obsessive tech geek springs famous artist

5th Dec 2013, 02:48
In the art world, Johannes Vermeer is considered a genius for his amazing rendition of perspective ...and light. Then tech wizard Tim Jenison noticed that Vermeer's delineation of shadows is better than is possible with the human eye. Hundreds of years before photography...

Jenison, who can't draw or paint, tries out his hunch - and produces a perfect Vermeer.

Jenison gets involved with magicians Penn and Teller, and the result is a fascinating new documentary movie - 'Tim's Vermeer'.

It has the art world gagging. :p

The secret is explained by Jenison here from 35:00 on -


Loose rivets
5th Dec 2013, 05:25

Many years ago we ran a company selling CAD gear. We sold huge pen plotters, and these were capable of using pencils. It's hard to imagine a time when one could not just scan in a picture, but that was the case. However, AutoCAD and others allowed accurate 3D line drawings, with hidden line removal which could take an hour on a 386 machine. It occurred to me that one could produce the slewed representation of buildings, though early software couldn't manage perspective and we had to wait for that.

The results were modest, but things like wheels could be turned for the first time and allow the image accurately. Funnily, I was the only one in my school that could walk up to the blackboard and draw a wheel from any viewpoint. It was as though I was pushing the chalk into the board. I was a brat, and never persevered with anything, so my work never found its way to the Tate.

This mirror technique seems very labored. What I don't think they're allowing is the human brain's ability to be a processor. He talked of comparators - a handy little solid state device of the 70s, but he said little of the artist's ability to process the data without help. The fact is, there were only a few artists of any worth - compared to the masses, that is - and humans often surprise us with the exception to the rule.

5th Dec 2013, 06:35
The British artist David Hockney collaborated with a scientist to produce a book about the use of various optical devices by artists, before the invention of photography: the camera obscura, for instance. Such things as the depiction of an intricate pattern in a carpet without the use of under-drawing suggest the use of such devices, and the book's an interesting read. I think that its title is Secret Knowledge.

Holbein's The Ambassadors shows a very curious distorted image of a human skull that certainly suggests the use of some optical device, so that this does not seem to be a far-fetched notion.

5th Dec 2013, 07:35
They talk about Hockney's ideas in the video clip, chuks, and in the film too, apparently. There had long been suggestions that Vermeer and others were using camerae obscurae (1st declension? Who cares...) but Tim Jenison was it seems the first to suggest that Vermeer not only 'traced' the forms but also 'traced' the colours in his work. Jenison goes further, and demonstrates how Vermeer might have done it.

As you say, Loose Rivets. There is now an app which for a few dollars corrects perspective just as effectively as an expensive rising front lens (or tilting the enlarger board!).

Loose rivets
5th Dec 2013, 08:23
It's fascinating to see the skull normalized back to some semblance of order - all done with computers - but it does show the original distortion had some mechanical basis for its shape.

I love Holbein - to the point I had him create a huge image of a certain vessel in my novel.

Hans Holbein the younger. I watched spellbound at the BBC? film of the restoration.

The Ambassadors (Holbein) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ambassadors_%28Holbein%29)