The Painter and the Philosopher Who Taught Us How to See

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The soldier and the laughing girl, 1658, by Jan Vermeer (1632-1675), oil on canvas

In 1674, in the small Dutch city of Delft, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek—a cloth salesman, local bureaucrat, and self-taught natural philosopher—gazed through a tiny lens set into a brass holder and discovered a never-before imagined world of microscopic life. At the same time, in a nearby attic, the painter Johannes Vermeer was using another optical device, a camera obscura, to experiment with light and create the most luminous pictures ever beheld. In Eye of the Beholder: Johannes Vermeer, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, and the Reinvention of Seeing, Laura Snyder describes the streets, inns, and guildhalls of seventeenth-century Holland, where artists and scientists gathered and invented the modern notion of seeing.