PENN AND TELLER LOOK AT VERMEER. This analysis of the chandelier in Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife shows how contentious is the issue of whether Vermeer and other old masters used scientific instruments in their paintings. The analysis argues from the details of the chandelier that the chandelier is not in “perfect perspective”. In response, Hockney and Falco apparently have fallen back to the contention that parts of the chandelier are in good perspective, while certain decorative parts were done by hand (that is, without the use of an instrument).

I can think of two ways of approaching this controversy without taking a position on it. First, I like the idea that the use of scientific instruments shaped the understanding by artists of how the eye sees. Painters painted differently because of what they had learned. The second way is, I think, how Penn and Teller approach the issues. In this article on the movie, Jay Stone says: “One of the intriguing ideas of Tim’s Vermeer is that if its theories are correct, Vermeer was using some of the techniques of magic — misdirection, sleight of hand, keeping secrets.”

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