In 2001, artist David Hockney and scientist Charles Falco stunned the art world with a controversial theory that, if correct, would profoundly alter our view of the development of image making. They claimed that as early as 1420, Renaissance artists employed optical devices such as concave mirrors to project images onto their canvases, which they then traced or painted over. In this way, the theory attempts to explain the newfound heightened naturalism or "opticality" of painters such as Jan van Eyck, Robert Campin, Hans Holbein the Younger, and many others.
This talk will describe the application of rigorous computer image analysis to masterpieces adduced as evidence for this theory. It covers basic geometrical optics of image projection, the analysis of perspective, curved surface reflections, shadows, lighting and color. While there remain some loose ends, such analysis of the paintings, infra-red reflectograms, modern reenactments, internal consistency of the theory, and alternate explanations allows us to judge with high confidence the plausibility of this bold theory. You may never see Renaissance paintings the same way again.