The search for a technique that would produce objective, truthful images “automatically” and in correct perspective began well before 1839—the official date of the invention of photography. In particular, the art and technique of “memorizing the gaze” developed from the perfecting of the camera obscura, a device that consisted of a box with a pinhole. The light that passed through the pinhole projected a small-scale, upside-down image of the object placed before it onto the opposite wall of the box. This phenomenon, which was studied by Aristotle in the 4th century BC, fascinated the artists of the Renaissance, who found many applications for this apparatus. As suggested by Giovan Battista Della Porta (1535-1615) in his Magiae naturalis, sive De miraculis rerum naturalium published in 1558, the camera obscura could be a useful aid to painters.


Image of the Florence Dome created by a camera obscura (17th century)
How the camera obscura works (1645)
Instrument for making portraits (1532)
Perspectivograph or Dürer’s perspective window
Camera obscura with mirror
Portable camera obscura