This paper will review opinions among historians of European art concerning the importance of optical devices for the making of naturalistic images from about 1400 onward, and will compare David Hockney’s sweeping claims on the same subject. His examples and others, including paintings by Van Eyck and Vermeer, will be considered. It will be shown that optical aids were regarded by pioneers of naturalism like Leonardo not as “secret knowledge” (Hockney’s notion) but as curiosities that were of little use to mature artists.

© 2004 Optical Society of America

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