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Allegory, Realism, and Vermeer's Use of the Camera Obscura

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image of Early Science and Medicine

Critics of the proposal that the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer used the camera obscura extensively in making his pictures of domestic scenes have argued that this cannot be the case, since his compositions are not 'photographic snapshots' but are very finely judged and balanced; his subject matter draws on the traditional motifs of Dutch genre painting; and the pictures are filled with complex allegorical and symbolic meaning. In this paper it is argued that all these are indeed characteristics of Vermeer's oeuvre, but that the artist produced them through the transcription of optical images of tableaux, set up by arranging real furniture and other 'props' with extreme care, in an actual room in his mother-in-law's house.


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