• Leonardo Studies

Leonardo Studies


Kim H. Veltman

Leonardo and the Camera Obscura

Studi Vinciani in memoria de Nando de Toni, (Brescia: Ateneo di scienze lettere et arti. Centro ricerche Leonardiane, 1986), pp. 81-92.

1. Introduction
2. Astronomical Context
3. Inversion of Images
4. Non-Interference
5. Images all in all
6. Intensity of Light and Shade or Image
7. Contrary Motion
8. Size of Aperture
9. Shape of Aperture
10. Number of Apertures
11. Apertures and Interposed Bodies
12. Spectrum of Boundaries
13. Camera obscuras and the Eye
14. Conclusion.

1. Introduction

Enthusiasts who credit Leonardo with the invention of the camera obscura are mistaken. Knowledge of the instrument can be traced back at least until the ninth century A.D. By the latter thirteenth century, Pecham was studying the instrument with respect to physics of light, while his contemporary, William of St. Cloud, explored its uses in the observation of eclipses in astronomy.

If Leonardo's studies of the camera obscura stand in a well established tradition, they remain important for at least three reasons. One is their sheer quantity: there are no less than 270 diagrams of camera obscuras in Leonardo's notebooks. Second, he uses it to demonstrate a wide range of optical principles: inversion of images, non-interference, images all in all, intensity of light and shade and contrary motion. A third reason for their importance is the method they reveal. Whereas his mediaeval predecessors had considered only isolated examples, Leonardo explores a series of cases, systematically altering the shape and number of apertures, as a result of which he makes analogies with the eye. This essay outlines the range of his camera obscura studies and the systematic approach these involve.

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