Artists’ Optical Knowledge

Artists’ Optical Knowledge

Sven Dupre, Klaus E. Werner,


Hans Vredeman de Vries, Perspective (‘s Gravenhaghe, Beuckel Corneliszoon Nieulandt voor Heyndrick Hondius, 1604-1605).


The artist’s ability to construct a convincing illusion of three-dimensional space on the basis of geometry was a powerful weapon in the battle for a higher intellectual status for the profession. However, while the contemporary study of perspective has developed since Erwin Panofsky’s Die Perspektive als ‘symbolische Form’ (1927) into a discipline of its own, artists’ appropriation of perspectiva, the science of optics with its roots in Antiquity, was not limited to the geometry of linear perspective. Painters were equally interested in the effects of reflected and refracted light on different types of textures, surfaces and materials. This project studies how artists transformed bodies of knowledge on light in the science of optics, and how treatises on perspective aimed at offering theories of vision. It also investigates the application of optical knowledge in other mediums, for example, by goldsmiths and glass painters.


  • Dupré, Sven: The Historiography of Perspective and Reflexy-Const in Netherlandish Art. in: Netherlands Yearbook for History of Art/Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, vol. 61, 2011