AAOSA Seminar: “The Science of Optics; The History of Art”, Monday March 16, 2015 @ 6:30pm

AAOSA Monthly Seminar Series:


portrait_FalcoCM_150x200pxThe Science of Optics; The History of Art

by Charles M Falco, Ph.D.

College of Optical Sciences and Department of Physics, University of Arizona, Tucson

Date: Monday March 16, 2015 @ 6:30pm

Location: The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA), 525 S State Street, Ann Arbor

*Doors open 6pm. Talk starts at 6:30pm*

*Join us for an informal post-event reception at HopCat, 311 Maynard St, Ann Arbor, from 8pm*


Recently, renowned artist David Hockney observed that certain drawings and paintings from as early as the Renaissance seemed almost “photographic” in detail. Following an extensive visual investigation of western art of the past 1000 years, he made the revolutionary claim that artists even of the prominence of van Eyck and Bellini must have used optical aids.  However, many art historians insisted there was no supporting evidence for such a remarkable assertion.  In this talk I show a wealth of optical evidence for his claim that Hockney and I subsequently discovered during an unusual, and remarkably productive, collaboration between an artist and a scientist. I also discuss the imaging properties of the “mirror lens” (concave mirror), and some of the implications this work has for the history of science as well as the history of art (and the modern fields of machine vision and computerized image analysis).  These discoveries convincingly demonstrate optical instruments were in use — by artists, not scientists — nearly 200 years earlier than commonly thought possible, and account for the remarkable transformation in the reality of portraits that occurred early in the 15th century. (For more information see http://fp.optics.arizona.edu/ssd/art-optics/index.html)



Professor Charles Falco has joint appointments in Optical Sciences and Physics at the University of Arizona where he holds the UA Chair of Condensed Matter Physics. He is a Fellow of four professional societies (the American Physical Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Optical Society of America, and the Society of Photo-optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE)), has published more than 250 scientific manuscripts, co-edited two books, has seven U.S. patents, and given over 400 invited talks at conferences, research institutions, and cultural organizations in 32 countries.  However, in addition to his scientific research, he was co-curator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum’s “The Art of the Motorcycle” which, with over 2 million visitors in New York, Chicago, Bilbao, and the Guggenheim Las Vegas, was by far the most successful exhibition of industrial design ever assembled.  More recently, he and the world-renowned artist David Hockney found artists of such repute as van Eyck, Bellini and Caravaggio used optical projections in creating portions of their work.  Three international conferences have been organized around these discoveries, and recognition for them includes the 2008 Ziegfield Lecture Award from the National Art Education Association.