Feb 1, 2010

Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae

Athanasius Kircher was a 17th century German Jesuit scholar who is considered to be on par with Leonardo DaVinci in regards to his intensely driven scientific curiosity and discoveries. One of the many published books that came from his work is his Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae (Great Arts of Light and Shadow) in the year 1645. The illustration above is a stunning example of his studies of light and optics using a designed room in which an observer could be entertained by the magical effects of controlled light rays, water, reflective planes and transmission of image. What make this concept all the more so fascinating is that Kircher includes a giant rolling drum in a container of water, clearly designed to reflect back pre-designed images painted upon the surface of each flat plane (most likely glass or shiny metal.) That drum pre-dates so many developments of the optical toy, such as the praxinoscope and zoetrope. The eye on the outside to the left of the room indicates a viewing hole for allowing a pinhole of light, indicating a camera obscura effect and projecting a landscape into the room.
(I don't read Latin, so the set-up is a bit confusing to me because the obscura is projecting the landscape on the ceiling, but the context of the illustrations and somewhat recognizable words leads me to this unofficial conclusion.)

The brilliance and curiosity of this scientist is made available online through digitized version of this truly amazing book of discoveries and analysis. You can easily view a copy online or download your very own version (takes about 1.5 hours for 1/2 GB.) The Bibliothèque Numérique du Cinéma has digitized and archived a stunning amount of very important and essential books that have all led to the development of what we know and understand as cinema today.

This page below is one the many examples in his book that demonstrates his particular examination of the pinhole as "lens" and the camera obscura phenomenon of light and image traveling in space. Consider the unusual concept of "image" and the fact that it can travel infinitely as light in order to appear magically on a flattened surface someplace else. The pinhole is the only device that contracts those rays of light and makes that image come into focus upon a plane that exists a measured distance away. So that would mean that the image, in fact what we think of as every distinct material and surface that comprises "image," exists simultaneously at all moments in every molecule of space as a "potential image." Does it not?

The last thing that just put me over the top when I was going through this amazing book of ideas, is that Kircher had this exciting and amazing SOLAR WATER heating system!! designed to drive water through a sculpture looking something like a Bacchanalian satyr. Wow, wow, wow.

posting by Lorelei P.

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