Convincing stuff: Disclosing perceptually-relevant cues for the depiction of materials in 17th century paintings

F. Di Cicco

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

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This thesis explores convincing stuff depicted in 17th century paintings, with the primary aim of understanding their visual perception. ”Stuff” is the term first introduced by Edward Adelson in 2001 to differentiate materials from objects, and to call attention on the research gap in material perception. In an interesting parallel, the representation of materials in paintings constitutes a knowledge gap in art history as well. Both gaps have only recently been recognized and started to be addressed in their respective research fields. In this thesis, representation and perception come together to create a virtuous circle in which the knowledge of painters about the representation of materials is used to understand the mechanisms of the visual system for material perception, and this is in turn used to explain the pictorial features that make the representation of materials so convincing. The common thread used here to connect representation and perception, is ”The big world painted small”, a long-forgotten booklet of pictorial recipes written by the Dutch painter Willem Beurs in 1692. We argue that this book represents an index of key features for material perception, that means an index of image features that always work as perceptual cues regardless of the illumination and the viewing conditions of the depicted scene. The main research objective of this dissertation is: To understand the convincing depiction and perception of materials in 17th century paintings, connecting the image features found in paintings and listed by Beurs to their role as perceptual cues. In order to achieve this objective, we employed a novel, interdisciplinary research approach, merging science of human and computer vision, technical art history, and the historical textual source of Beurs.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Pont, S.C., Supervisor
  • Dik, J., Supervisor
  • Wijntjes, M.W.A., Advisor
Award date19 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Material perception
  • Willem Beurs
  • paintings
  • image features
  • perceptual cues


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