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Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters
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Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  1,410 ratings  ·  68 reviews
Recently, David Hockney, often described as the "world's most popular artist", has made headlines not with his own work but with his sensational and controversial theories about how some of Western art's famous masterpieces -- paintings by artists such as da Vinci, Caravaggio, Velazquez, and Van Eyck -- were actually created. A chance observation of a drawing in London's N ...more
Hardcover, 296 pages
Published October 29th 2001 by Studio (first published 2001)
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Lois Bujold
Oct 17, 2014 Lois Bujold rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in art, optics, or how the world is seen
Recommended to Lois by: mentioned in documentary film

I came to this via the film Tim's Vermeer and the excellence of my county library.

Well, this is certainly not a book one could read on a Kindle. Hockney works a compelling example of "show, don't tell", though to be fair he does both. The book opens with a long section of large-format and well-reproduced pictures of paintings, essential to and the foundation of his arguments, goes on to a section of select quotes from historical documents about the uses of mirrors and lenses from Roman times onw
Great book.

I love controversy especially when it targets the art world, when it stirs up the way we perceive and look at great masterful works of art; when it throws a whole new massive spanner into the works.

Optics or eyeballed?

That is the question.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, I savoured it because of the artwork and the new light shining on them. (I still find myself today picking it up to satisfy a looming question, checking out uncertainties.)

The author has written a good book wit
Al Bità
This handsome publication sets down for the record David Hockney's long and detailed exploration of the techniques and technologies that may have been used by the great masters of European painting. He concentrates on the 500 year period from the beginning of the fifteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century. In the process one is led to a complete re-evaluation and re-appreciation of their work.

The journey was not simple or straightforward. It began with a close examination of Ingres,
The secret knowledge is een fantastisch boek van de hand van een van mijn favoriete hedendaagse kunstenaars, David Hockney. Een paar jaar geleden haalde ik het al eens uit de bib, geprikkeld als ik was door de titel. Vandaag heb ik het voor de tweede keer uitgelezen en uitgekeken en niet begrepen hoe het kan dat ik dit nooit te horen kreeg in de vele uren kunstgeschiedenis.

Dit boek is opgehangen aan het vermoeden van Hockney dat veel schilders sinds het midden van de 15de eeuw optische hulpmidde
This is one of the most remarkable books I can recall ever reading about any subject. It is so iconoclastic and written with such authority by a person so accomplished as a practitioner in the field he examines that the experience it provides is unique and the euphoria it induces is real.

Beginning with Van Eyck and heading forward through most every painter of note - Caravaggio, Velazquez and Vermeer most of all - they all used optics, lenses specifically, to accomplish the miracles they created
One of the best books about art, because there is a specific theory directly tied to how artwork is created and then many illustrations are deployed to prove the theory. Topics like biography, motivation, symbolism, etc are put to the side to focus on how artists see. The discussion on drawing with camera lucida is interesting, as Hockney brings up the concept that certain lines look more confident, but also he can see duration of time in lines (which lines were drawn at certain speeds). Hockney ...more
Researched and written by British artist David Hockney, this is a compelling book which explores the "how" of painting historically. Hockney's thesis is that artists — particularly those working in the Dutch and Flemish heyday like Van Eyck or Rembrandt — were aided by lenses, optics, and mirrors to help them craft realistic artworks.

In this visual essay, Hockney proposes that these high-tech methods date back hundreds of years further back than the common conception among art historians. The b
Remarkable! Hockney convincingly demonstrates that, starting around 1430, artists used optical devices to capture figures and landscapes realistically. This accounts for distortions in perspective and Caravagio-like shadows because of the strong light needed to use lenses.
Impressionists and post-impressionists wanted to do something new and so became post-lens artists. This is a subject that has profound implications for the translation of three dimensional reality into two dimensions as is done
Pointed out some necessary things for a painter to realize. I sort of understood in general terms that old masters used particular techniques to produce some of the most realistic looking paintings ever made, but this told of those on the specific level when and why they used them and most importantly how. Optics played an important role in the development of old masters techniques and how those really shaped the reasoning and purpose of painting from the 17th century of painting to now. Hockney ...more
John Lambert
This was a very interesting book. Hockney's evidence that painters used optical devices to create almost photographic images on canvas is compelling. At the same time, there are artists that can do this by "eyeballing." Some of their work is in Aaron Brothers in the " How to Draw _______" section. I have no doubt that Hockney is correct. This is the most interesting art history book I have read. I enjoyed reading the way Hockney meticulously described and duplicated the processes used by master ...more
Jorge Fecklesson
Beautiful. The grand perspectives were done by tracers, shows the great painters were resourceful as well as gifted with sight and vision. Deflate some of the current art world blowhards.
James Eckman
An interesting read, bad photoshop art has a long history.

The controversy is fun reading, see Wikipedia for details. On that note many of the paintings in the book are located near where I live and having inspected them after reading this book I can see optical distortion caused by the use of simple lenses, based on my image processing and optical design experience. Critics of the theory will have to explain how a 15th century artist "faked" that look. Unless of course the actual paintings don'
A really interesting argument about the use of optics in European artwork from the 14th century onward, beautifully made over the course of the lavish illustrations and clever text. Do I buy it? I don't know. The influence of optics in some cases seems very strong, but as the book goes on, I got the feeling that Hockney had "optics on the brain" and was seeing them everywhere, even places that didn't (to me) look very compelling. I completely buy that Caravaggio probably used optics, for example ...more
Dit boek gaat over Hockneys fascinerende ontdekking dat de laatste 600 jaar heel wat kunstenaars, meer dan we ooit vermoedden, hun toevlucht genomen hebben tot optische hulpmiddelen (lenzen, spiegels, camera lucida,...) om waarheidsgetrouw te schilderen en te tekenen.
Zo herontdekte hij het gebruik van de kleine holle spiegel waarmee grote meesters als Jan Van Eyck of Giovanni Bellini al projecties maakten om hun portretten en stillevens een grotere figuratieve plausibiliteit te verlenen.
Ook hede
What a fascinating book. There are some grumpy reviews about it around the web, but I think a little controversy just adds to the mystery. The author demonstrates with many fascinating examples how artists may have used lenses to project images to aid in their painting. I've never thought so much about HOW art is created, and I've also never really thought about this potential bridge between photography and film and painting and drawing. I've never really been a huge art museum person, much as I ...more
Jun 10, 2007 shawn rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all artists
the controversial theory Hockney puts forth about Renaissance painters in this book is actually beyond the controversy. historians and theorists have been fighting about this and tearing him (and each other) apart since this book came out, but it doesn't have anything to do with them. as a painter, this book speaks to me as exactly what he purports it to be: secret knowledge that has been lost to modernity. theorists might have to deny it in order to maintain the legitimacy of the old masters; i ...more
Joseph Boquiren
Good eye-opening book on the tools artists use but never reveal to the general public. Contemporary artists are not doing anything different with computers that the old masters did with optics in the 14th century.
I waited forever for this book. It was unavailable at the library and even Amazon had only a few copies. It was worth the wait.
I remember the New Yorker article detailing Hockney's "discovery" in 2000. Yes, lenses, mirrors and art history can be memorable for 15 years!
Hockney's passion is so compelling and contagious and the best part is, this is not an academic book. He's not condescending even when he brings in the experts. We see what he sees-- the whole first half of the book are painting re
This was a FASCINATING read! If you saw the documentary Tim's Vermeer and like art history, it's a must read!

An amazingly fast or incredibly detailed read, depending on your mood. Either way it is engaging and makes a strong case for the use of optical enhancements being used by artists considerably more than perhaps anticipated. The idea that was more remarkable for me was to learn the mechanics of building the physical space that is required to make the optics work and the close examination of subtle perspective and depth of field difference to show how sectioned paintings using these techniques are
A nice approach to intuitive analysis of the technology at play in paintings over time. Of course, it is very well illustrated and it is interesting to read a painter/photographer as he attempts to "prove" a theory about the use of camera lucida and obscura. However, the proof is merely observational in almost all cases. This doesn't mean it's unbelievable; it's just lacking a little oomph.

This book is very worthwhile, despite my 3-star review.
If you can draw, this book will make you feel more talented and proud to have not used aides. It stands to reason that artists who are in the business of making art use what they can to improve the process and speed it along. But, today, if you have a job that doesn't require you to make art to pay the bills, you are free to explore techniques and technologies as you please with creativity as your primary concern. I find that liberating.
I learned so much about painting today. The book is full of brilliant insights such as this quote.

"All drawn lines have a speed that can usually be deduced: they have a beginning and an end, and therefore represent time, as well as space. Even a tracing of a photograph contains more 'time' then the original photograph (which represents just a fraction of a second), because the hand takes time to do it."
John Humber
I recall seeing a TV documentary some years ago in which Hockney demonstrated some of the things in this book. I have the expanded edition of this book and it supports my view of Hockney as someone who is still studying and learning about art.

I don't like everything he does but I almost always learn something and it's always interesting to see what has aroused his curiosity.
Wonderful investigation on the techniques employed by artists. Though Mr. Hockney's treatise will be upsetting to several, he backs his reasoned conjecture with ample and convincing arguments. As a world renowned artist himself, his explorations into a very probable course taken by artists in the Renaissance and well into the 19th Century provides enlightened considerations.
Loved this book. It read like a real-life detective mystery and David Hockney has superior powers of observation, not because he's a detective, but because he's an artist. His thesis not only explains particularly striking evidence about the use of optics in fine art but gives a philosophical framework for the evolution of image-making in general.
This is so good. This made me look at paintings in a whole different way. It did what everyone dreams of the ideal professor doing--it opens up a whole new way of looking at something. It is based in a practicing artist's observations and the question many of us ask in front of great paintings:how did they do that? I want a camera lucida for Christmas now!
This was one of those great books that will permanently affect how I see art. Hockney's argument is that optical devices such as lenses and projecting mirrors were used since the early renaissance (and even before?) to create an early form of photorealism. The important idea is that art using these devices is very realistic but also fairly flat.
This book was one of the most eye-opening pieces of reference material as an artist that I have ever come across. Hockney expresses his thoughts beautifully and he utilizes his professional connections appropriately. Also he has the alternative perspective of researching the history of art from the view of a true fine artist.
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David Hockney was born in Bradford, England, on July 9, 1937. He loved books and was interested in art from an early age, admiring Picasso, Matisse and Fragonard. His parents encouraged their son’s artistic exploration, and gave him the freedom to doodle and daydream.

Hockney attended the Bradford College of Art from 1953 to 1957. Then, because he was a conscientious objector to military service, h
More about David Hockney...
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