Artibus et Historiae no. 56 (XXVIII)

2007, ISSN 0391-9064

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MARCIN FABIAƃSKI - Refractions in Painting at the Time of Caravaggio

Circa 1600 a handful of Italian painters in a few scenes depicted glass vessels with clearly marked effects of refraction of light, which proves that to some extent they were aware of the problem. Annibale Carracci and Bartoleomeo Manfredi may have known Pausanias's enthusiastic description of Pausias's transparent glass painted in Epidauros, but with no mention of refraction this source could have only encouraged artists to observe light effects in transparent media. The most conspicuous deformations occur in flower vases in the Boy Bitten by a Lizard (Fondazione Longhi, Florence) by Caravaggio and in the Still Life (private collection) by an anonymous follower of Caravaggio. Interestingly, Caravaggio rendered the optical phenomenon less precisely than the anonymous author. Rather than from Caravaggio's neglect, this "mistake" seems to result from the artist's incomplete knowledge of simplified optical theories, as the one by Giambattista Della Porta. The growing interest of patrons and painters in discoveries of natural sciences was balanced by the desire to observe decorum in art, best expressed by Daniele Barbaro, who expressly referred to refraction. Such cautionary attitude may generally account for the artists' reluctance to paint optical deformations.

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