Two prominent art historians have recently turned their attention to the influence which photography and its forerunner, the camera obscura, had upon painting. Sir Kenneth Clark1 attempted to trace the panoramic landscape backgrounds of such Renaissance artists as Pollaiuolo and Piero della Francesca, and the extreme realism of mid-seventeenth-century Dutch painting, to a knowledge of the effect of the earlier optical device; whilst R. H. Wilenski2 took pains to define the camera's as opposed to the painter's vision, and then proceeded to lay the blame for all the shortcomings of nineteenth-century painting directly or indirectly on the influence of photography.
The inter-relation of photography and painting is a fascinating subject indeed, yet one requiring first and foremost a great deal more research on the part of historians before we can arrive at anything like a proper estimation. So far, the information offered has been largely surmise, for too little is as yet known about nineteenth-century photography, which has not yet been deemed worthy of a public collection or permanent exhibition.
Future historians of our century would commit a grave mistake should they judge modern art by the standards of the Royal Academy Exhibitions, or modern photography by the 'pictorialism' of the annual shows of the Royal Photographic Society or similar exhibitions. But whilst this contention will be readily acceded to, it must be emphasized that the attempt to evaluate the whole of nineteenth-century photography by the detailed metallic daguerreotype at the beginning or the smudgings and fuzzy photographs of the over-publicized 'artist'- photographers at the end of the period amounts to an equally serious error of judgement.
The camera obscura was by no means the only visual mechanical device in past centuries to assist the artist in drawing. The glass-plate drawing instrument described by Dürer in 1525, William Storer's delineator ( 1778), Wollaston's camera lucida ( 1807) and Cornelius Varley's Graphic Telescope ( 1811) are only a few of the many optical devices by the aid of which, at various periods, the artist's hand mechanically copied the vision of his eye.
I have indicated only some of the manifold complexities which confront the historian in his attempts to arrive at a fuller understanding of this rather involved subject. The information I have collected here does not claim to do more than indicate the direction for further research and form the basis for a much wider and more exhaustive study.
The thirst for knowledge which characterized the Renaissance was fertile ground for the invention and popularization of mechanical instruments by means of which scenery and figures could be delineated in accurate perspective. Yet the camera obscura dates from a much earlier epoch. The impression that Leon Battista Alberti invented this instrument is based upon a misunderstanding of a statement by Vasari. Alberti's invention 'for representing landscapes and for diminishing and enlarging figures' was of an entirely different nature: it was an