Caravaggio Techniques and the Camera Obscura

Today I had a lively in-studio conversation with friend, colleague and restorer Eowyn Kerr on Caravaggio, his technique (did he glaze?) and why a painter should never underestimate the potential of a good table cloth.  She was even kind enough to make for me a lovely sketch on how to understand the cross-section of a painting sample (though she refused to sign it) and, in doing so, she suggested to me that Caravaggio did not lay in a lead white base for flesh to then glaze down, but rather, worked with a flesh mid-tone, then made the highlights with a flesh-colored lead white mix.  To be specific: begin the flesh with an “extender white” or “shell white” (once known as “Biacco di San Giovanni”) mixed with some yellow ochre, green earth and vermillion, then, over that, the lead white flesh.

Of course, no conversation of Caravaggio is complete without speculating on his use of the camera obscura.  Did he or didn’t he? I think he did.  And not just because Hockney says he did:

David Hockney claims many famous paintings were traced using camera-like devices.

Of course, that was easy enough to find.  I just searched for: “hockney on caravaggio.”  But with Google for a shovel, why not dig?

I search again, this time for: “caravaggio cross-section of painting analysis”–

An Artist’s Secrets? Projection and Photoluminescence

Non ci posso credere.


*** Below content added September 5, 2010 ***


3 replies
  1. tja
    tja says:

    Found! The documentary by Hockney (“Secrect Knowledge”) on YouTube. I’ve embedded it in the main post above. Once Part I ends, the next link it gives you will be Part II, etc. There are 8 parts in total.

  2. tja
    tja says:

    By the way, if you enjoy the video by Hockney (which, I must give him great credit: his research is thorough, and the presentation, thoroughly entertaining) then you should follow the link to Roberta Lapucci’s website. She beleives that Caravaggio was, in fact, a “photographer”; her current research (as I understand it) involves the possibility that Caravaggio was able to “print” an image to a canvas for a limited time and use a phosphorescent paint to “fix” the image before it disappeared. Truly fascinating.

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *