“See for yourself!” was the clarion call of the 1600s. Natural philosophers threw off the yoke of ancient authority, peered at nature with microscopes and telescopes, and ignited the Scientific Revolution. Artists investigated nature with lenses and created paintings filled with realistic effects of light and shadow. The hub of this optical innovation was the small Dutch city of Delft. Here Johannes Vermeer’s experiments with lenses and a camera obscura taught him how we see under different conditions of light and helped him create the most luminous works of art ever beheld. Meanwhile, his neighbor Antoni van Leeuwenhoek’s work with microscopes revealed a previously unimagined realm of minuscule creatures. The result was a transformation in both art and science that revolutionized how we see the world today.
In Eye of the Beholder, Laura J. Snyder transports us to the streets, inns, and guildhalls of seventeenth-century Holland, where artists and scientists gathered, and to their studios and laboratories, where they mixed paints and prepared canvases, ground and polished lenses, examined and dissected insects and other animals, and invented the modern notion of seeing. With charm and narrative flair, Snyder brings Vermeer and Van Leeuwenhoek—and the men and women around them—vividly to life. The story of these two geniuses and the transformation they engendered shows us why we see the world—and our place within it—as we do today. Download and start listening now!