The Photographic Camera: An Invention Of The Sixteenth Century ?

Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio had an intense life. His works full of contrasts of light, represents the intensity in which the painter lived his life. The subjects are represented in the climax of the action. They are expressive and eloquent, painted with accuracy and incredible precision. An almost photographic precision. Actually a real photographic precision.

It seems that Leonardo da Vinci has been working on a device called camera disegna luce. A device capable of drawing light, thus a kind to photography. This seems incredible, but let’s not to forget that this genius was able to invent the helicopter.

Leonardo wrote in his Codex written during his stay in Rome:

“With your paintbrush you can spend lots of time,

but if you can take a photo, the result is sublime.”

But unfortunately, he has not had time to finish and realise his project.

A century after Leonardo’s invention, another inventor called Guzzaglio Cornafresca found in his attic the notes describing Leonardo’s device. They had been abandoned by the Master, during his fugue from Rome. As he couldn’t take everything with him he had to choose between this notebook and the Mona Lisa.

Reading the notes, Guzzaglio became aware that the invention was easy to achieve with the “modern” equipment of the late sixteenth century he had at his disposal.

Cornafresca had the certainty that the village’s blacksmith, an old man retired from his activity, was his wife’s lover. Indeed she had bought a huge amount of poorly wrought iron objects. Why would she do this if it is to have an excuse to see her lover? Guzzaglio Cornafresca went then to visit the blacksmith’s wife to disclose the truth. She confessed that, yes, her husband had indeed spent all his time visiting Catherine Cornafresca, his only client. Despite the evidence and accurate descriptions of Guzzaglio, the blacksmith’s wife was too in love to believe in the betrayal of her husband. Guzzaglio decided that the only way to convince her would be to take a photograph of the lovers in the act. This would have probably been the beginning of the pornographic picture, if the circumstance decided otherwise. That very day the blacksmith was sick and Catherine was in bed with her other lover, the young Caravaggio. Caravaggio feeling threatened by this devilish device he had never seen before, jumped out of bed and directly punched Mr. Cornafresca. With this chevalresque method Caravaggio got all the details about the machine, how it worked and how to print a photograph on canvass with the use of a entrail of coypu beaver (recently imported from America). At that time Caravaggio was an aspiring painter and had little success. He realized what treasure he had in his hands. He kept the equipment for himself and ran away while taking his first photo. First photo which was titled Judith beheading Holofernes later on :

We can see Catherine abusing Guzzaglio because he had deprived him of his lover in the critical moment. On the right is the blacksmith, who, despite his illness, came to see Catherine. A wonderful shot which makes Caravaggio master of photography of his time. He had the presence of mind to take the picture when he escaped, instinctively choosing the right time and the right camera angle. The result is an image of an unusual epic power which has allowed the artist to sell it as a painting of the biblical event of Judith and Holofernes. Not at all. This is a photo printed on canvas. Definitely retouched with paint, as Caravaggio knew the basics of the medium from his time as a mason. An image that equals and exceeds the depth of Hamilton, the realism of Salgado, the red of Steve McCurry.

Caravaggio was determined to be a painter but despite all his commitment and countless attempts, his paintings were always disappointing. Below: the painting he realized from the previous picture :

Only photography managed to show what he wanted to represent. It is true that he was wild and erratic in nature. He did not have the patience to spend hours, days, months in front of his canvas to compose the image gradually, with brush strokes. At the contrary he was good at improvisation, he had the ability to seize the moment, essential qualities of good photographer. He had acquired the necessary speed and reflexes during his eventful life. His nightlife made of taverns tours, binge drinking, fighting and rioting had provided excellent material for his pictures, and gives us an invaluable document of the society of the early Baroque.

By printing his photos on canvas, the artist managed to fool everyone. He did not realize that he was creating a new art: photography. We must give credit to Caravaggio, mediocre painter but genius of photography, as a precursor of two century of this noble art.

Here is a photo of a photo taken by one of our journalists.

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