Da Vinci: and Mirrors | srorrim dna

“Why are paintings seen more correctly in a mirror than out of it?”


Painters often fall into despair of imitating nature when they see their pictures fail in that relief and vividness which objects have that are seen in a mirror; while they allege that they have colours which for brightness or depth far exceed the strength of light and shade in the reflections in the mirror, thus displaying their own ignorance rather than the real cause, because they do not know it. It is impossible that painted objects should appear in such relief as to resemble those reflected in the mirror, although both are seen on a flat surface, unless they are seen with only one eye; and the reason is that two eyes see one object behind another as _a_ and _b_ see _m_ and _n_. _m_ cannot exactly occupy [the space of] _n_ because the base of the visual lines is so broad that the second body is seen beyond the first. But if you close one eye, as at _s_ the body _f_ will conceal _r_, because the line of sight proceeds from a single point and makes its base in the first body, whence the second, of the same size, can never be seen.”

— Leonardo was working out the rules that govern vision and optics that allow for 3d stereoscopic imagery - which we use now in 3d tv’s and more..


When you want to see if your picture corresponds throughout with the objects you have drawn from nature, take a mirror and look in that at the reflection of the real things, and compare the reflected image with your picture, and consider whether the subject of the two images duly corresponds in both, particularly studying the mirror. You should take the mirror for your guide—that is to say a flat mirror—because on its surface the objects appear in many respects as in a painting. Thus you see, in a painting done on a flat surface, objects which appear in relief, and in the mirror—also a flat surface—they look the same. The picture has one plane surface and the same with the mirror. The picture is intangible, in so far as that which appears round and prominent cannot be grasped in the hands; and it is the same with the mirror. And since you can see that the mirror, by means of outlines, shadows and lights, makes objects appear in relief, you, who have in your colours far stronger lights and shades than those in the mirror, can certainly, if you compose your picture well, make that also look like a natural scene reflected in a large mirror.”

If you want to represent an object near to you which is to have the effect of nature, it is impossible that your perspective should not look wrong, with every false relation and disagreement of proportion that can be imagined in a wretched work, unless the spectator, when he looks at it, has his eye at the very distance and height and direction where the eye or the point of sight was placed in doing this perspective. Hence it would be necessary to make a window, or rather a hole, of the size of your face through which you can look at the work; and if you do this, beyond all doubt your work, if it is correct as to light and shade, will have the effect of nature; nay you will hardly persuade yourself that those objects are painted; otherwise do not trouble yourself about it, unless indeed you make your view at least 20 times as far off as the greatest width or height of the objects represented, and this will satisfy any spectator placed anywhere opposite to the picture.

If you want the proof briefly shown, take a piece of wood in the form of a little column, eight times as high as it is thick, like a column without any plinth or capital; then mark off on a flat wall 40 equal spaces, equal to its width so that between them they make 40 columns resembling your little column; you then must fix, opposite the centre space, and at 4 braccia from the wall, a thin strip of iron with a small round hole in the middle about as large as a big pearl. Close to this hole place a light touching it. Then place your column against each mark on the wall and draw the outline of its shadow; afterwards shade it and look through the hole in the iron plate.

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