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Despite occasional speculation over the years that an optical device somehow enabled Vermeer to paint his pictures, the art-history establishment has remained adamant in its romantic conviction: maybe he was At the beginning of this century, however, two experts of high standing begged to differ.
Why, for instance, did Vermeer paint things in the foreground and shiny highlights on objects slightly out of focus?
David Hockney and others have speculated—controversially—that a camera obscura could have helped the Dutch painter Vermeer achieve his photo-realistic effects in the 1600s.
But no one understood exactly how such a device might actually have been used to paint masterpieces.
And The Music Lesson shows you the exact position of the windows.” But the challenge was immense, because in order to reproduce the painting with the help of a camera obscura, Jenison would first have to build an exact reproduction of the room in the original painting, and of everything in it.
Around that time Jenison happened to get a call from his old friend Penn Jillette, the larger, voluble half of Penn & Teller, in Las Vegas.
He put a round two-inch mirror on a stand between the photo and his painting surface.
And since he had no training or experience as an artist whatsoever, he figured he was the ideal beta user of whatever he rigged up. “Vermeer got it right in ways that the eye couldn’t see.“I don’t oppose the notion that Vermeer in some way responded to the camera obscura,” said Walter Liedtke, then as now the Met’s curator of European paintings (including its five Vermeers), “but I do oppose drastic devaluations of the role of art.”Meanwhile, in San Antonio, Texas, Tim Jenison knew nothing of the brouhaha.