Geometry of Light and Shadow: Francesco Maurolyco (1494-1575) and the Pinhole Camera

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In his Theoremata de lumine, et umbre (1521), Francesco Maurolyco (1494-1575) discussed, inter alia, the problem of the pinhole camera. Maurolyco outlined a framework based on Euclidean geometry in which he applied the rectilinear propagation of light to the casting of shadow on a screen behind a pinhole. We limit our discussion to the problem of how the image behind an aperture is formed, and follow the way Maurolyco combined theory with instrument to solve the problem of the projection of light through small apertures. We show that Maurolyco not only reformed the classical sources which, he thought, were no longer the authoritative code of textual knowledge, but also established with the dioptra a novel linkage of method, theory, and instrument. He thereby demonstrated the importance of optics to the science of astronomy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)549-578
Number of pages30
JournalAnnals of Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to Michael Wright for making a replica of Maurolyco’s dioptra, and to Dov Freiman of Elbit Systems, Electro-Optics ELOP, Ltd, and Giorgio Strano for their valuable comments. This study is supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 136/04).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History and Philosophy of Science


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