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In “The secret knowledge”, his instructional book about the techniques and secrets of the great masters of european painting, David Hockney claimed that artists such as Vermeer, Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Van Eyck handled with total ease, optical instruments for drawing on a paper an image reflected by a mirror or lens.

An approach to the dark chamber, a direct ancestor of the cameras, which also would have laid the hand of Velázquez painting “Las Meninas”, according to a study researcher and professor of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, Miguel Usandizaga. “Without this machine, Velázquez would not have been able to achieve with such perfection the doubling of the real space in the box, the effect -oh, so baroque!- the confusion between reality and its representation,” says Usandizaga, a researcher from the UPC, as well as an architect and professor of the School of Architecture of the Vallés, in the conclusions of their research, published yesterday.

A plausible theory

In the eighties, the historian John Moffit already pointed to the idea that Velázquez would have served some kind of technical ingenuity to complete his most celebrated masterpiece, a theory that experts consulted by this newspaper considered “plausible”, due, above all, the discovery of lenses in the study of the sevillian. With your research, Usandizaga goes a little further and concludes that “the perspective and the general lines of the box they were drawn by Velázquez using a camera obscura-type cabin.” “Later, he adds, after some modification and reversing the operation of the camera (illuminating its interior, and, darkening the room), Velázquez designed the small box on a larger canvas in white and traced the general lines of the box resiguiendo the projection” .

a Comparative study of the perspectives and the characters of “Las Meninas” in the Prado, and the Kingston Lacy – UPC

The “small box” to which it refers Usandizaga is not another “Las Meninas” of Kingston Lacy, in Dorset, work that you first thought was a copy on a reduced scale and Matías Díaz Padrón, amounted in 2013 to the category of sketch or modeletto, but to the researcher in barcelona is something even more important. To know: the “negative painting” the big picture. “Instead of destroying the evidence of his maybe little noble -but effective – practice, Velazquez wanted to take performance to the small box. I was sure that nobody would understand never what it was exactly that small. He charged his son-in-law the copying of the figures from the big picture to the small,” says Usandizaga in an attempt to clarify the role of Martínez del Mazo in the development of “Las Meninas”.

Eight inches

For Usandinzaga it all started almost two decades ago with the sighting of a straight line of eight inches in a reproduction of “Las Meninas” of Kingston Lacy. A “minutia crucial,” located between the legs of Nicolasito Pertusato that put the researcher on alert. Especially after you verify that that line does not appear in “Las Meninas” at the Prado Museum.

Detail of the line discovered between the legs of Nicolasito Pertusato – UPC

To a level with purely technical, the researcher explains that the finding is due to a “deconstruction perspective, the reverse procedure of the geometrical construction of the perspective that it offers promising possibilities if it is done with a computer and software for drawing in two dimensions”. Applied to “Las Meninas”, this has led to transfer with computer-aided design and overlay and compare two photographic reproductions of the canvas.

“When we compare our copies of the two versions of the box we find that the perspectives and straight lines that define the general features of the space of the box were, except for the size difference, virtually identical,” he says. This accuracy from one frame to another, he adds, “cannot be achieved by naked eye and using a camera obscura”.

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