Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Time of Sitting one Minute

Artists have used mechanical means to ease the difficulties of accurate drawing long before the invention of photography. Eleven miniature silhouettes are just about to go on display at Temple Newsam, all painted by John Miers (1758-1821), one the most famous profilists of the 18th century. They are painted in watercolour on plaster and each one has a pasted advert on the back which reads:
Perfect Likenesses in miniature Profile taken by J.Miers LEEDS and reduced on a plan entirely new which preserves the most exact Symetry and animated expression of the Features much Superior to any other method. Time of sitting one Minute. NB He keeps the original Shades, and can supply those he has once taken with any number of Copies. Those who have shades by them may have them reduced to any size and dressed in the present Taste.
Orders at any Time addressed to him at Leeds in Yorkshire will be punctually dispatched.
Miers must have used some type of a camera obscura, which is basically a room sized pinhole camera: The sitter would sit in front of a strong light, the image projecting through a lens into a darkened room where the artist could trace the profile probably on paper against a movable screen of ground glass. This drawing would then be transferred to the plaster support. Under the microscope an indented line can actually be seen around each miniature profile head.
It would be great fun to try and reproduce his method, build a camera obscura and get people to have a go: Any volunteers ? Time of sitting only one minute!

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