Rembrandt’s Textural Agency: A Shared Perspective in Visual Art and Science
Steve DiPaola, S, Riebe C, Enns J,: Rembrandt’s Textural Agency: A Shared Perspective in Visual Art and Science. Leonardo, Vol 43, No 3, pp 145-151, 2010.
The authors hypothesize that Rembrandt developed new painterly techniques in order to engage and direct the gaze of the observer. Although these methods were not based on scientific evidence at the time, they are nonetheless consistent with a contemporary understanding of human vision. The authors propose that artists in the late early-modern period developed the technique of textural agency—selective variation in image detail—to guide the observer's eye and thereby influence the viewing experience. They conclude with the presentation of laboratory evidence that Rembrandt's techniques indeed guide the modern viewer's eye as proposed.
This interdisciplinary paper hypothesizes that Rembrandt developed new painterly techniques — novel to the early modern period — in order to engage and direct the gaze of the observer. Though these methods were not based on scientific evidence at the time, we show that they nonetheless are consistent with a contemporary understanding of human vision. Here we propose that artists in the late ‘early modern’ period developed the technique of textural agency — involving selective variation in image detail — to guide the observer’s eye and thereby influence the viewing experience. The paper begins by establishing the well-known use of textural agency among modern portrait artists, before considering the possibility that Rembrandt developed these techniques in his late portraits in reaction to his Italian contemporaries. A final section brings the argument full circle, with the presentation of laboratory evidence that Rembrandt’s techniques indeed guide the modern viewer’s eye in the way we propose.
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