Soap Bubbles In Paintings: Art and Science
American Journal of Physics
Soap bubbles became popular in 17th century paintings and prints primarily as a metaphor for the impermanence and fragility of life. The Dancing Couple (1663) by the Dutch painter Jan Steen is a good example which, among many other symbols, shows a young boy blowing soap bubbles. In the 18th century the French painter Jean-Simeon Chardin used soap bubbles not only as metaphor but also to express a sense of play and wonder. In his most famous painting, Soap Bubbles (1733/1734) a translucent and quavering soap bubble takes center stage. Chardin's contemporary Charles Van Loo painted his Soap Bubbles (1764) after seeing Chardin's work. In both paintings the soap bubbles have a hint of color and show two bright reflection spots. We discuss the physics involved and explain how keenly the painters have observed the interaction of light and soap bubbles. We show that the two reflection spots on the soap bubbles are images of the light source, one real and one virtual, formed by the curved surface of the bubble. The faint colors are due to thin film interference effects. © 2008 American Association of Physics Teachers.
Department of Physics
Original Publication Date
DOI of published version
Behroozi, F., "Soap Bubbles In Paintings: Art and Science" (2008). Faculty Publications. 2373.