The Romans did not believe that to have a copy of an artwork was of any less value that to have the original

The Romans did not believe, as we do today, that to have a copy of an artwork was of any less value that to have the original.

Greek art certainly had a powerful influence on Roman practice; the Roman poet Horace famously said that “Greece, the captive, took her savage victor captive,” meaning that Rome (though it conquered Greece) adapted much of Greece’s cultural and artistic heritage (as well as importing many of its most famous works).

It is also true that many Romans commissioned versions of famous Greek works from earlier centuries; this is why we often have marble versions of lost Greek bronzes such as the Doryphoros by Polykleitos.


Doryphoros (Spear Bearer), Roman copy after an original by the Greek sculptor Polykleitos from c. 450-440 B.C.E., marble, 6’6″

The Romans did not believe, as we do today, that to have a copy of an artwork was of any less value that to have the original. The copies, however, were more often variations rather than direct copies, and they had small changes made to them. The variations could be made with humor, taking the serious and somber element of Greek art and turning it on its head.

So, for example, a famously gruesome Hellenistic sculpture of the satyr Marsyas being flayed was converted in a Roman dining room to a knife handle. A knife was the very element that would have been used to flay the poor satyr, demonstrating not only the owner’s knowledge of Greek mythology and important statuary, but also a dark sense of humor.

From the direct reporting of the Greeks to the utilitarian and humorous luxury item of a Roman enthusiast, Marsyas made quite the journey.


Doryphoros (Spear Bearer), Roman copy after an original by the Greek sculptor Polykleitos from c. 450-440 B.C.E., marble, 6’6″ / close-up

But the Roman artist was not simply copying. He was also adapting in a conscious and brilliant way. It is precisely this ability to adapt, convert, combine elements and add a touch of humor that makes Roman art Roman. Photo’s: Ilya Shurygin.

Perspective Theory – Filippo Brunelleschi

Linear perspective, a system of creating an illusion of depth on a flat surface. All parallel lines (orthogonals) in a painting or drawing using this system converge in a single vanishing point on the composition’s horizon line.

Filippo Brunelleschi (Italian: [fiˈlippo brunelˈleski]; 1377 – April 15, 1446) was an Italian designer and a key figure in architecture, recognized to be the first modern engineer, planner and sole construction supervisor.[4] He was the oldest amongst the founding fathers of the Renaissance.

He is generally well known for developing a technique for linear perspective in art and for building the dome of the Florence Cathedral. Heavily depending on mirrors and geometry, to “reinforce Christian spiritual ‘reality’”, his formulation of linear perspective governed pictorial depiction of space until the late 19th century.[5][6] It also had the most profound – and quite unanticipated – influence on the rise of modern science.[6] His accomplishments also include other architectural works, sculpture, mathematics, engineering, and ship design. His principal surviving works are to be found in Florence, Italy. Unfortunately, his two original linear perspective panels have been lost.

Like most discoveries, perspective theory did not emerge out of a vacuum. The underlying ideas had been accumulating for centuries. While the main application of perspective is in art, it is an optical phenomenon and thus has its principal root not in art but in geometrical optics.
Euclid’s Optica, C. 300 B.C., was the first text on geometrical optics, in which are defined the terms visual ray and visual cone.

Perspective is the method of sketching a front with the sides withdrawing into the background, the lines all meeting in the center of a circle. Unfortunately he didn’t elaborate on that. Elsehere, Vitruvius’ reference to Greek and Roman stage design, implied an understanding of the vanishing point.

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Brunelleschi observed that with a fixed single point of view, parallel lines appear to converge at a single point in the distance. Brunelleschi applied a single vanishing point to a canvas, and discovered a method for calculating depth. In a famous noted experiment, Brunelleschi used mirrors to sketch the Florence baptistry in perfect perspective.

He was able to mathematically calculate the scale of objects within a painting in order to make them appear realistic. It was a monumental discovery, and soon artists were using Brunelleschi’s method of perspective to astonishing affects in their paintings. (img Florencie, Filippo Brunelleschi, San Spirito,1434)

Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome for Santa Maria del Fiore is a feat of engineering so revolutionary that it faced doubters at every step of its realization.

Brunelleschi’s original perspective studies are long gone, but he directly influenced many others. The first known painting to show true linear perspective is Masaccio’s “The Holy Trinity”. In the fresco, a false room has been created on the flat wall of the church using perspective to simulate the architecture.

Secret Knowledge – David Hockney

BBC David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge 1of2 DivX MP3 MVGForum

Artist David Hockney reveals startling evidence which suggests that cameras have been a secret tool for artists since the 15th century, a discovery that solves century-old mysteries surrounding famous paintings. Presented by Kirsty Wark, and filmed in Bruges, Florence and a stunning Hockney-designed set in Hollywood.

Youtube: taylordiabennett Published on Nov 23, 2011

The article bellow was originally posted on

Candid camera

In Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, David Hockney reveals how artists caught nature with lenses and mirrors. It took a painter to show us, says Peter Robb
Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters
David Hockney
296pp, Thames & Hudson, £35

David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge is a short and thrilling book with big new things to say about European painting. Hockney has followed his painter’s technical curiosity into questions that have mostly been ignored by academic art history.

Were the great leaps in verisimilitude achieved by European painters after the middle ages enabled by the use of mirrors and lenses?Illustrations are a large part of the story here. Linked by an exiguous text that breathes an engaging Boys’ Own practical enthusiasm, the pictures create a tension between your desire to linger on the gorgeous images and your eagerness to turn the page and see where Hockney is going.

This essay is followed by a very useful little anthology of writings on optics over the last 1,000 years, followed in its turn by an intermittently interesting sheaf of letters exchanged between Hockney and various academics on his research.

Hockney started from a conviction that Ingres used a camera lucida – basically a small prism on a stalk – to draw rapid portrait likenesses on paper. This is not very exciting. The big questions lie in painters’ use of the camera obscura to cast images of the real world on to a darkened wall.

Secret Knowledge presents a series of simple but immensely suggestive technical notes on a series of paintings, especially on the qualities of perspective or proportion or finish that give clues to how they were made. Any medium or technique for making art creates a set of possibilities and limits that bear on the artist’s activity at every point and are inseparable from what is achieved.

Some of Hockney’s best thoughts on the optics implicit in the art are almost thrown away here. The richness and precision that a projected image helped make possible in painting, he remarks, also involved the painter in another kind of tyranny or falsification, that of the monocular view of the single lens, unlike the binocular vision of the human eyes.

He also points out that painters using a camera obscura were likely to have only one small part of their life models in focus at any time. So they worked moving from one small area of the composition to another, during which time the light source – the sun – and the shadows it cast would move, and a sense of time and motion would be incorporated into the finished work.

Meanwhile, the painting of complex works with several figures, done part by projected part, would create problems of depth – eyelines that didn’t meet, for instance – that enhance the dreamlike vividness and the spatial enigmas of some of Caravaggio’s work.

Although Hockney argues that optical devices were used by European painters from the early 15th century, 1600 was the moment when the look of European painting changed. The agent of change was Caravaggio. Some – not all – of Caravaggio’s painting uniquely compels you to grope for words in order to describe the optical novelty and disturbing immediacy of the images. They’re at once coldly precise, voluptuously real and strangely oneiric. They’re certainly alien to the geometrical perspectives of renaissance art.

These paintings were all done in Rome in the decade from 1595, when Caravaggio was part of an intensely scientific and experimentally minded milieu in a household frequented by Galileo, who was then developing the telescope. His patron, Del Monte, owned one of the few copies of Leonardo da Vinci’s still-unpublished writings on art and science.

Della Porta’s book on natural magic, which described clearly and vividly how the camera obscura worked, had begun circulating widely in a new edition just before Caravaggio arrived in Rome. His very first paintings don’t yet use this technique (this includes one, the Sick Bacchus, which I think Hockney misreads, since it was done before Caravaggio had access to the new technology of image projection and is a self-portrait painted, as a contemporary wrote, looking at a mirror).

Later, when he was on the run, Caravaggio had to abandon the technique altogether.
In Rome, Caravaggio owned and used mirrors and compasses. Contemporaries agreed that he painted directly from life. He didn’t draw, and so never worked in fresco, which needed a preliminary drawing. Unlike other painters, he marked out the limits of a few forms, a kind of elementary tracing that left tiny grooves in the wet priming of his canvases, as if to fix the components of a projected image. These techniques were secret because they were dangerous. Science and magic were equally suspect. Della Porta had run foul of the Inquisition, and Galileo would too.

Hockney shows how simply this projection could be made. All Caravaggio needed was a concave mirror and a strong light source, though he might have used more. It will now be hard to deny that Caravaggio, in these central Roman years, painted from images projected like colour slides on to a flat surface. Together with the utterly different Vermeer, half a century later in the Netherlands, Caravaggio is the great instance in favour of Hockney’s case. Other painters used optical devices, but Caravaggio and Vermeer made their optics central to the way they saw the world. That is why, in the 17th century, optics in art suddenly mattered.

The delight of Hockney’s book is the stimulus it gives us to look afresh at paintings we know well, to think and see for ourselves. His remarks on visual detail are brilliant. I think his larger thesis is essentially right, if not equally pertinent or fruitful in all its parts. New insights sometimes have to fight the tide of a faintly tedious obsession with the minutiae of mechanical technique. Are the portrait sketches of Ingres, let alone the tracings of Andy Warhol, interesting enough for us to care much how they were done? But with Caravaggio and Vermeer and Cézanne – who is the great contrary instance – Hockney strikes gold.
It took a painter to show us.

Giclee Prints

Reproduction Print Sales Impact Artists in a Big Way

The commercialization of the art business is nowhere more evident than in the marketing of reproduction prints, particularly giclees (computer prints of digital files) by businesses presenting themselves as fine art publishing companies.

These days, many artists are also publishing digital prints of their art. The reproductions are many times presented as signed limited edition “fine art” prints and can sell for hundreds or occasionally even thousands of dollars.

The great majority, however, are nothing more than digital prints of scans or photographs of paintings, watercolors or works of art in other mediums (as opposed to original digital works of art created by digital artists entirely or in part on computers which ARE considered to be unique).

The Hippopotamus and Crocodile Hunt by Peter Paul Rubens, printed on paper and canvas stock, with the seven Epson pigmented ink printer cartridges used to produce it (printer and prints commonly called giclée)

Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with publishing, marketing, selling and collecting giclee prints as long as sellers properly represent what they’re selling and buyers know what they’re buying. Unless sellers provide adequate information, people who don’t understand what they’re buying can think they’re getting more than digital reproductions or copies of art. These prints are often available for sale with no explanations whatsoever other than that they’re signed or limited, and unless they’re told otherwise, some buyers believe they’re buying art, not computer printout copies of art. The truth is that artists whose works of art are reproduced as prints usually have little or nothing to do with the hands-on production of these editions, their only participation typically being to sign their names and number the prints which takes maybe thirty seconds or a minute or so per print, assuming they’re even signed.

The problem with how giclee prints are sometimes marketed is fourfold.

First of all, many of these prints and giclees are sold in ways that confuse less sophisticated buyers.

Second, some level of collectibility and/or investment potential may be implied by sellers, when in fact, these reproduction or “giclee” copies of works of art in other mediums are basically produced the same way as decorative mass-market prints and posters.

Third, the markup over production costs can sometimes be quite high with the bulk of the profits going to printing companies (aka fine art publishers) and to the galleries or websites that sell these prints rather than to the artists themselves.

Fourth, it can be argued that every time someone buys one of these reproduction prints or giclees thinking they’re buying original works of art, one less artist somewhere sells one less original work of art.

Even though reproduction print sales range well into the millions of dollars, artists do little to combat the misconceptions that sometimes characterize how these prints and giclees are marketed.

Many feel powerless or have no interest in mobilizing, others ignore the problem out of elitism, while others decide to join on in and publish their own signed limited edition reproductions.

No matter what the excuse or rationalization, as long as commercial print and giclee publishers continue to position their prints in ways that make them seem like something other than digital reproductions and more like original works of art, they’ll continue to maintain and likely even increase their market share while artists will continue to come out on the short end.

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