Frank Davis Memorial LEcture Series


Art and Vision Science

The Beholder's Gaze: What Do Our Eyes Do When We Look at Paintings?

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

17.30 - 18.30, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre

Fixation clusters of 30 experts viewing the Annunciation by Filippo Lippi
Fixation clusters and most frequent transitions between them: Average of 30 experts viewing the Annunciation by Filippo Lippi (c. 1450, Munich, Alte Pinakothek) for 30 seconds each.  © Raphael Rosenberg

Speaker(s): Professor Raphael Rosenberg (Department of Art History, University of Vienna)

Ticket/entry details: Open to all, free admission

Organised by: Tim Satterthwaite and Dr Meredith A Brown

Numerous texts assume that works of art direct the beholder’s gaze. The concept comes up as early as the sixth century (Procopius of Caesarea); writing in the 1760s Denis Diderot claimed that paintings guide the eye of the viewer along a specific line of composition. The idea remains current in art history to the present day. Raphael Rosenberg will examine discourses about the gaze in art historical writings. He will then discuss their deviation from and correspondence with physiological reality by presenting the results of his experimental work with eye-trackers. He suggests that empirical methods can significantly enlarge the range of art historical knowledge.


Raphael Rosenberg has carried out extensive research on the history of art perception, analysing both texts (the history of art descriptions) and drawings (copies of sculptures by Michelangelo). He holds a chair in Renaissance art history at the University of Vienna; he is the director of the Department of Art History, and founder of the Laboratory for Cognitive Research in Art History. Raphael Rosenberg is a member of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

The 2013 Frank Davis Memorial Lecture Series explores the intersection between art and vision science. More than fifty years after Gombrich’s pioneering Art and Illusion, the science of perception remains, for the most part, marginal to art historical practice, despite extraordinary recent advances in our understanding of the visual brain. In this series of five international lectures, leading vision scientists and art historians argue the case for a new engagement between art and science, in which scientific models of vision inform the theories and approaches of art history. The complex dynamics of perception, unlocked by contemporary vision science, contain implications for the study of art that are only now being realised.

Sponsored by the FM Kirby Foundation with additional support from The Guarantors of Brain


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