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ACCORDING to David Hockney, he has made a personal discovery that may change the history of art forever; that the spirit of photography is much older than its history, with optical images fixed on glass and paper being used not from the 19th century with chemicals applied to glass and paper, but in the early 15th century with the use of the curved mirrors of camera obscura and the camera lucida.

The author of this book is not a household name – being Professor of Urban and Built Form Studies at University College London, and having published several books on geometry in architecture – unlike David Hockney, who writes a glowing review of this book on the back cover.

The idea that Vermeer might have made occasional use of some kind of optical instrument to support or inspire his compositional and painting technique is one widely held among art historians. More difficult is the proposition that an artist with such outstanding skills as Vermeer might have used the camera wholesale, to trace large parts of the outlines of many paintings, thus adding another vein to the long abandoned rumpus over whether photography is art. To quote one historian, Martin Kemp: “... reluctant to study the implications of this evidence... not quite proper for their favoured artists to resort to what has become regarded as a form of cheating”.

The mystery story unravels through chapters Who taught Vermeer about optics? Reconstructing the spaces in Vermeer’s paintings, and More Evidence, from rebuilding Vermeer’s studio. This was a lifesize room set, dressed for The Music Lesson and built by the BBC in 1989 incorporating a camera obscura.

Perhaps the most interesting chapter is Arguments against Vermeer’s use of the Camera. in which Professor Steadman’s findings don’t challenge the 17th century Dutch artist’s supreme art but rather show a culture which matched so fluidly art with science. Fascinating stuff and most likely the better for not being written by an artist or art historian.