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Caravaggio took photos and used early dark room

Susan Grundy and Roberta Lapucci explained that Caravaggio probably converted his entire studio into a camera obscura in order to project images onto his canvas.
The painter then used his own compound made of mercury, salt and Venetian ceruse, a popular lead-based cosmetic skin-lightener, in order to temporarily ''fix'' the images on the canvas. This produced a short-lived, fluorescent image, similar to a photograph, which he was then able to convert into a permanent sketch that formed the basis of the eventual painting.

After the earlier image faded, the artist could remove the canvas from the camera obscura and continue his work. Caravaggio converted his studio into a kind of darkroom by filtering light through a purpose-made hole in his ceiling, using a biconvex lens and a concave mirror to reflect the image he planned to paint directly onto the canvas.

The use of a camera obscura to sketch the subject was not a new technique among artists, having gained prominence thanks to Leonardo da Vinci's writings.

The device works by projecting reverse images of outside objects onto the flat wall of a closed box through a lens in an aperture. By attaching a mirror to the apparatus, artists were able to trace the exact dimensions of the image onto a piece of paper.

Caravaggio spent months refining his technique, adjusting the light and the size of the models.

However, by turning his entire room into a camera obscura, Caravaggio found himself working in the dark.

The experts believe this led him to create his own version of the faintly luminous, lead-based paint.

by S. C.
15 october 2009, Food Notes > Miscellanea