1. Lenses

From the recording The Terra Nova EP

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"Lenses" is a quirky pop song about, well...lenses!

On a weekend break to the Netherlands, my wife Juliet and I visited both the "RijksMuseum" in Amsterdam and the "MauritsHuis" in the Hague in order to see the Vermeer paintings which hang in the respective galleries (Juliet is a massive Vermeer fan).

Vermeer famously used a "Camera Obscura" to project the image of his painting onto canvass, especially for his domestic scenes.

Whilst on this break in the Netherlands, I learned that Johannes ("Jan") Vermeer was not the only Dutchman born in the Dutch city of Delft in October 1632 who became very interested in -- and utilised -- lenses.

At the same time, a contemporary of his called Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek (also born in October 1632!)invented the microscope and through this, observed microscopic life for the very first time. So freaked out was he by what he saw in his drinking water, that he refused to partake of any water for three whole days, until he became so dehydrated that he started hallucinating -- and had to be held down by his servants and forced to drink. After which, he lived until the ripe old age of 90!

Whether van Leeuwenhoek and Vermeer knew each other is a topic of conjecture. Van Leeuwenhoek's "day job" was as a clerk in the Delft Town Hall (which stood at the opposite side of the Delft town square as a tavern run by Vermeer's father)and in that capacity was the executor of Vermeer's will when he died, so the chances are high that they did -- especially as both also shared an interest in lenses. But historians are still to confirm their acquaintance.

What IS certain is that both men knew a third compatriot interested in lenses, Christiaan Huijgens (born in 1629)who together with his brother Constantijn, built telescopes with two lenses in them, which helped with the problem of refraction, and which allowed Huijgens to discover the rings of Saturn and it's moon "Titan".

Huijgens is known to have supplied both Vermeer and van Leeuwenhoek with lenses. In the song, he is the "third" lens-grinder mentioned.

Originally, the song also had a verse dedicated to a fourth "lens-grinder", Benedict ("Baruch") de Spinoza, one of the great enlightenment philosophers, who made his living as a lens-grinder (but sadly died from silicosis related to inhaling the fine glass dust): Huijgens was a known and satisfied customer of Spinoza's.

Whether in the service of science (Huijgens and van Leeuwenhoek); art (Vermeer); or Philosophy and Metaphysics (Spinoza), what unifies all four men was...lenses!

I was so interested in this connection, I wrote this song about it! :-)