The principal role of a representational painter is to make images of credible falsity, beginning with the illusion that real space lies beyond a flat and opaque surface.
By 1661, when Hendrik van Vliet painted this interior view of a church in Delft, the geometry that makes perspective convincing had been fully understood for two centuries, but as a shortcut, artists in the Netherlands, which was a center of lens making, sometimes made use of a camera obscura, an optical device that uses a lens to form an image on ground glass. Nearly two centuries later, when the development of photosensitive materials had made photography possible, the camera obscura was retrofitted to become what we now think of as a camera, so there is an inevitable family resemblance between images such as the van Vliet and photographs of architectural interiors.
Whether or not van Vliet in fact used a camera obscura, once the architectural elements were arranged in the preparatory drawing, things were far easier for the painter than they would be for a photographer, who could not make things light or dark according to his preferences but was forced to accommodate the natural responses of chemicals to light. Van Vliet was free to contrive a range of tones that is entirely impossible in the real world, and that could be duplicated only by intense manipulation of a photographic image. The farthest corner of the vaults is bathed in soft and revealing light, and no deep shadows obscure any recess. While the means van Vliet employed differ from modern ones, his image is consistent with the approach one encounters in architectural photography today, and there is a strong continuity from pre-photographic to photographic pictures of buildings. Radical though it was, the new medium did not seriously change how architecture is represented.
Ralph Lieberman, Visiting Lecturer in Art and the History of Art
interiors; architecture; religion; Christianity
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