A Brush With Controversy: Scholar to Explain Theory

Visiting Professor to Discuss ‘The Science of Optics, the History of Art’

Jan. 31, 2008

Picture this: A Renaissance artist painting a portrait’s delicate details, relying not on the technique of a skilled master but by tracing an image cast on canvas by a lens set up to work like a modern projector.

That’s the gist of a theory by Charles Falco, professor of optical sciences at the University of Arizona.

The theory, praised as a breakthrough in some quarters and criticized as cultural heresy in others, will get an airing by Dr. Falco himself on Tuesday, Feb. 5, in a free lecture at UT Dallas.

The presentation is at 7:30 p.m. in Davidson Auditorium (SOM room 1.118). The event is sponsored by the School of Arts and Humanities and the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Simply put, the “Hockney-Falco Thesis,” developed in collaboration with renowned artist David Hockney, says that as early as 1430, artists painted portions of their masterpieces using lenses and concave mirrors. They used these optical devices to project images of their subjects that could be traced on their easels, the theory holds.

As a result, Falco believes, paintings known for centuries as masterpieces of realism may contain elements painted using “optics-based’ techniques instead of freehand methods alone. Van Eyck's painting of Cardinal Albergati is a suspected example.

Falco and Hockney have cited events in the development of optics to support their theory.

In a separate lecture on Wednesday, Feb. 6, Falco will discuss “The Art and Science of the Motorcycle.” That event is at 4 p.m. in Hoblitzelle Hall Auditorium (HH 2.402).


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Van Eyck's painting of Cardinal Albergati
Van Eyck's portrait of Cardinal Albergati has been offered as evidence that the masters used optics to help them attain an almost photographic sense of realism.

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