Tim Jenison had a theory that Joseph Vermeer had made used of particular lens technology to make his paintings almost photo-realistic. To test this, he recreated the setting of The Music Lesson from scratch, harpsichord and all, and even recreated the theorised lenses using 17th century tools. For someone who doesn't know how to paint, he sure did a good job.
Did many of the "great masters" of Western art, well, cheat? Not exactly, says David Hockney, but they were close. In his new book, entitled Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, Hockney fleshes out a theory that he's been toying with for years: that artists from Raphael to Caravaggio used devices similar to a camera obscura (specifically, a camera lucida), to "assist" them in making near photograph-quality reproductions of their subjects. The theory (and the resulting debate) is fascinating: if these artists did, in fact, benefit from "technical assistance," how should this affect our view of them, and of art history in general?