You may have heard the curious story from May 2008 about how Sotheby’s withdrew a picture from auction that was suspected of having been optically captured by Thomas Wedgwood in the 1790s, some 30 years before the first ‘official’ photo was taken. Photography historian Dr Larry J. Schaaf speculated that this was so “based on the letter ‘W’ that – on close inspection – can be seen inscribed in an ‘unidentified hand’ in the bottom-right corner of the image and four others” in an album of early images known to have been owned by Englishman Henry Bright.

While this is a neat little narrative built on a tiny handwritten feature in the margins, it’s – quite frankly – just not crackpot enough to make the grade here. Here at Cipher Mysteries Towers, our palettes have become accustomed to overspiced Voynich Manuscript and Phaistos Disc theories, typically high-Scoville historical decoctions that would blow most historians’ mouths off. So, all I can say to all you photographic pseudo-historians out there is – guys, guys, you’re going to have to do better than that to make the front page here.

And so it is with a sense of both pride and awe that I doff my cap to Welshman Roger Davies. His theory – which is his, and his alone, so far as I can make out – is that Dürer’s 9-inch high 1514 engraving meisterwerke “Melancholia #1” is actually a photograph of a large (but lost) drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, probably with an exposure time of several days.

What first alerted Davies was the facial similarities between Albrecht Dürer’s cherub and a Leonardo cherub in a “sketch held at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Caen, France“. He then sketched out Dürer’s perspective, only to discover an underlying 532-point circle which trickily aligns to a good number of the picture’s features in a ‘sacred geometry’ kind of way. Davies then points to 1480 (34 years back from 1514, where 34 is the total of each line of Dürer’s magic square in the picture) and 2012 (532 years forward from 1480), but then corrects the figure to 2001, midway between the 1997 Montserrat volcanic events and the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Are you following all this?

With more than an echo of Wilfrid Voynich’s connecting the VMs with Roger Bacon and John Dee, “Davies believes that the artist must have possessed an extensive knowledge of mathematics, alchemy, geometry, astronomy and optics to, first, conceive the drawing and then photograph it onto a light-sensitive copper plate inside a camera obscura. The only person with such skills, according to Davies, was Da Vinci.

Not yet convinced by this? “Dürer’s connection with Da Vinci also lies in their sharing the same ‘mentor in mathematics’, Luca Pacioli“, the article continues. Well, that settles it, then. 🙂

(Note that the online article is in four pieces but the internal links are broken: so here are direct links to pages 2, 3, and 4 of it).

One thought on “First photograph by Durer of a Da Vinci drawing? Riiiiight…

  1. Hmn –
    “Pacioli mentored both Dürer and da Vinci?”

    Luca Pacioli might be of interest to cipher mystery readers, Nick. What mathematician can resist dabbling in codes and ciphers, even if only for fun. Standard fare for keeping bright kids focussed on their maths problems.

    a Vatican manuscript (Lat. 3129) partially preserves Pacioli’s text.
    and in 2011 was published

    C.M. reDARIO, GB TONIATO SILVIA, mathematical games of Fra Luca Pacioli. Tricks, puzzles and pastimes of late fifteenth century, Edizioni Dedalo, Bari (I) 2011
    HEEFER ALBRECHT, Algebraic partitioning problems from Luca Pacioli’s manuscript Perugia (Vat. Lat. Sciamus 3129), 10 (2009), pp. 10-45

    available in pdf format, but no link because SpmFilterSaysNo.

    I owe this information about Pacioli publications to a very wise person in a mailing list. I still read Smith’s 2 volume History of Mathematics for this sort of thing. Even the Dover reprint seems to be o.p. now.

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