In a recent short blog entry, Design Engineering blogger Elisabeth Eitel goes over the evidence that Vermeer obtained his hauntingly lifelike results through technology, in particular by use of a camera obscura. The story is contained in a movie called Tim's Vermeer that can occasionally be found in small theaters and probably through the streaming services (that link will open the movie trailer).
The movie is by inventor Tim Jenison and his friend Penn Jillette (the Vegas magician) who directs. It shows how Jenison works more than eight years to accurately recreate the art of 17th-Century Dutch Johannes Vermeer, the painter of such highly realistic Masters as Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Concert.Cameras obscura are totally enclosed thin-walled boxes with holes on opposing walls. Light travels in straight lines from the scene being painted through a small hole, cross, and project through the opposing hole as an upside-down image on any surface put in front of it.
Not only that, but Jenison uses all the tech-based techniques Vermeer used — with heavy reliance on a camera obscura.
With this device, Vermeer captured scenes with the shimmer and accuracy of a snapshot ... 150 years before photography.
What I find fascinating about this is that Vermeer presaged the use of photography for capturing reality by substituting his meticulous work for film. He essentially became the film. In an age when artists meticulously painted individuals, Vermeer was (to be crass) tracing pictures in the camera obscura. It's not as easy as that; people do move and an optical system based on a pinhole doesn't present a great image. Still, it wasn't painting everything freehand.
I've often thought that if the majority of the great painters had a modern camera to speed their work, they'd use it. This lends to support to that idea.