Changing Perspectives: The Science of Optics in the Visual Arts

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2021

Aravinthan D. T. Samuel (Department of Physics)   
Freshman Seminar 51X     4 credits (spring term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 8

Renaissance artists developed many techniques to create stunningly realistic representations of the natural world. From a two-dimensional visual image on the retina, the human brain effortlessly comprehends its three-dimensional surroundings. But faithfully transferring three-dimensional information to a canvas—a sense of depth, the play of light on surface and shadow, proper geometrical perspective—is remarkably hard to do. Here, we will discuss how Renaissance artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Vermeer might have used ideas from optics to enhance the accuracy of their artistry. We will consider how devices like pinhole cameras, mirrors, and lenses might have helped Old Masters see more deeply and create images more faithfully. We will build and use versions of such devices to create our own drawings and paintings. We will look closely at selected masterpieces to assess whether or how tools were used. Optical science will be learned, tested, and put into practice in the studio with paint and pencil.  

Note: This seminar is recommended for students with interests in science and art. There will be an exhibition of the works created by the students at the end of the term.

See also: Spring 2021