Sunday, January 22, 2012

No one knows how the camera lucida...

As a kid, one of my obsessions was Egyptology. One of my favorite books was C.W.Ceram's Gods, Graves and Scholars (Goetter, Graebe und Gelerhte),  which I think I almost learned by heart. In my teens I got hold of another of his books, The March of Archaeology, which was pretty much identical except for a larger format with many more good-sized pictures. Each page began with the first phrase of the text in bold on a line of its own, and one page was headed, "No one knows how the camera lucida".

It went on to add, "...was used by [Edward William] Lane to obtain this picture. The camera lucida was a device much favored by draftsmen of the period. It is still used by beginners in art schools. In principle the instrument is extremely simple. By means of a rotatable glass prism, the artist can cast a reduced image of the object upon a sheet of paper. [...] Lane's remarkable "air view" shows the pyramid of Chephren from above the north-east corner of the Great Pyramid."

Today I thought I saw the equivalent viewpoint from a modern camera obscura, or camera as we call them.  It's from a Nova article investigating who built the pyramids.


Excitedly, I went back through all my books. (Would you believe that "no one knows how the camera lucida" doesn't bring up any Google hits? (Well, until tomorrow when the Google bot finds this, of course.) Usually you can find these phrases through Google books.) After a while I remembered March of Archaeology and found the picture Edward William Lane projected and drew between 1826 and 1827.


Ceram was right - the viewpoint on the top of the pyramid is not the same as Lane's drawing. His really does appear to have been drawn in mid-air. The cut stones on top of the Great Pyramid (now called Khufu's pyramid) are accurate (as this detail shows) and Chephren's (now called Khafre's) capped pyramid is completely accurate also. But it's from above!

How about that? How did the Victorian drafstman guy get this particular shot?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Obsessed with Egypt, too. I will have to chew on this a bit; quite an interesting problem!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin
I sometimes mention a product on this blog, and I give a URL to Amazon or similar sites. Just to reassure you, I don't get paid to advertise anything here and I don't get any money from your clicks. Everything I say here is because I feel like saying it.