Eye of the Beholder:
Johannes Vermeer,
Antoni van Leeuwenhoek,
and the Reinvention of Seeing

W. W. Norton & Company

Winner of the 2016 Sally Hacker Prize of the Society for the History of Technology

The remarkable story of how a painter and a scientist in seventeenth-century Holland transformed how we see the world.

“See for yourself!” was the clarion call of the 1600s. Natural philosophers threw off the yoke of ancient authority, peered at nature with microscopes and telescopes, and ignited the Scientific Revolution. Artists investigated nature with lenses and created paintings filled with realistic effects of light and shadow. The hub of this optical innovation was the small Dutch city of Delft. Here Johannes Vermeer’s experiments with lenses and a camera obscura taught him how we see under different conditions of light and helped him create the most luminous works of art ever beheld. Meanwhile, his neighbor Antoni van Leeuwenhoek’s work with microscopes revealed a previously unimagined realm of minuscule creatures. The result was a transformation in both art and science that revolutionized how we see the world today.

New York Times

Elegantly written intellectual history….Fascinating….[Snyder] proves an able and engaging guide.

Wall Street Journal

An engaging and richly detailed work of interdisciplinary history.

Oliver Sacks

Laura Snyder is both a masterly scholar and a powerful storyteller. A fabulous book.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This delightful book is solidly researched but reads like a novel—and a good one at that!

Ingenious, lucid and revealing look at the lives of two brilliant men who changed our way of seeing the world.

Daily Beast

One of those engaging books that make you smarter without making you suffer….This poetic, inclusive approach to popular science writing makes Eye of the Beholder an unfailing pleasure to read.

It is in this absorbing way that Snyder takes us back through time, beyond the reflections and shadows, to the very heart of Vermeer’s art.

Daily Mail

This is more than a joint biography. It is a portrait of an age of insatiable intellectual curiosity….The great pleasure of this book is how Snyder makes the science clear to the layman.

New Scientist

Spectacular….As in her previous masterwork, The Philosophical Breakfast Club, [Snyder] ingeniously explores the minutiae of her subjects’ lives to reveal sweeping changes in how their world was understood – ones that still resonate today.


Snyder beautifully evokes the ambience of late-seventeenth-century Delft….She is revelatory about Vermeer’s aims and methods

American Scholar

Rich and rewarding . . . . One of the pleasures of her book is that it demonstrates how Vermeer and Leeuwenhoek, rather than copying reality, showed that it contained within it more than one could have supposed—inner space, both psychological and biological.

Katherine Weber

Laura J. Snyder’s Eye of the Beholder is an irresistible invitation into the lives and work of Vermeer and van Leeuwenhoek and how the extraordinary intersection of their genius in Seventeenth century Delft awakened our perceptions of how we see the world. It’s a wonderful and vivid book.

Eye of the Beholder is a thoughtful elaboration of the modern notion of seeing. Laura J. Snyder delves into the seventeenth century fascination with the tools of art and science, and shows how they came together to help us make sense of what is right in front of our eyes.