Charles M. Falco

Charles M. Falco

Speaker: Charles M. Falco, Emeritus Professor, College of Optical Sciences and Department of Physics, University of Arizona, Tucson

Date: Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Place: Hager Auditorium, Museum of the Rockies
Title: The Science of Optics; The History of Art

Doors open at 5 p.m. A reception will follow the lecture in the lobby of the Museum of the Rockies.


Recently, renowned artist David Hockney observed that certain drawings and paintings from as early as the Renaissance seemed almost "photographic" in detail. Following an extensive visual investigation of western art of the past 1000 years, he made the revolutionary claim that artists even of the prominence of van Eyck and Bellini must have used optical aids. However, many art historians insisted there was no supporting evidence for such a remarkable assertion.

In this talk, Charles Falco will show a wealth of optical evidence for Hockney's claim that Hockney and Falco subsequently discovered during an unusual, and remarkably productive, collaboration between an artist and a scientist.

Falco will also discuss the imaging properties of the "mirror lens" (concave mirror), and some of the implications this work has for the history of science as well as the history of art and the modern fields of machine vision and computerized image analysis. These discoveries convincingly demonstrate optical instruments were in use—by artists, not scientists—nearly 200 years earlier than commonly thought possible and account for the remarkable transformation in the reality of portraits that occurred early in the 15th century.


About the Speaker

Charles Falco has joint appointments as Emeritus Professor in Optical Sciences and Physics at the University of Arizona where he held the UA Chair of Condensed Matter Physics. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Optical Society of America and the Society of Photo-optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). He has published more than 275 scientific manuscripts, co-edited two books, has seven U.S. patents and given over 400 invited talks at conferences, research institutions and cultural organizations in 32 countries.

In addition to his scientific research, he was co-curator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum's "The Art of the Motorcycle" which, with over 2 million visitors in New York, Chicago, Bilbao and the Guggenheim Las Vegas, was by far the most successful exhibition of industrial design ever assembled. More recently, he and the world-renowned artist David Hockney found artists of such repute as van Eyck, Bellini and Caravaggio used optical projections in creating portions of their work. Three international conferences have been organized around these discoveries and recognition for them includes the Ziegfield Lecture Award from the National Art Education Association, the Dwight Nicholson Medal from the American Physical Society and a presentation in the opening ceremony of the 2015 United Nations 'International Year of Light'.

Read the press release