Trompe-l'OEil

This article is about the art technique. For the album by Malajube, see Trompe-l'oeil (album).

Trompe-l'œil (French for deceive the eye, pronounced [tʁɔ̃p lœj]), which can also be spelled without the hyphen in English as trompe l'oeil,[1] is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that depicted objects exist in three dimensions. Forced perspective is a comparable illusion in architecture.

History in painting


Though the phrase originates in the Baroque period, when it refers to perspectival illusionism, trompe-l'œil dates much further back. It was (and is) often employed in murals. Instances from Greek and Roman times are known, for instance in Pompeii. A typical trompe-l'œil mural might depict a window, door, or hallway, intended to suggest a larger room.

A version of an oft-told ancient Greek story concerns a contest between two renowned painters. Zeuxis (born around 464 BC) produced a still life painting so convincing that birds flew down to peck at the painted grapes. A rival, Parrhasius, asked Zeuxis to judge one of his paintings that was behind a pair of tattered curtains in his study. Parrhasius asked Zeuxis to pull back the curtains, but when Zeuxis tried, he could not, as the curtains were Parrhasius's painting—making Parrhasius the winner.

With the superior understanding of perspective drawing achieved in the Renaissance, Italian painters of the late Quattrocento such as Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506) and Melozzo da Forlì (1438–1494), began painting illusionistic ceiling paintings, generally in fresco, that employed perspective and techniques such as foreshortening to create the impression of greater space for the viewer below. This type of trompe l'œil illusionism as specifically applied to ceiling paintings is known as di sotto in sù, meaning "from below, upward" in Italian. The elements above the viewer are rendered as if viewed from true vanishing point perspective. Well-known examples are the Camera degli Sposi in Mantua and Antonio da Correggio's (1489–1534) Assumption of the Virgin in the Duomo of Parma. Similarly, Vittorio Carpaccio (1460–1525) and Jacopo de' Barbari (c. 1440 – before 1516) added small trompe-l'œil features to their paintings, playfully exploring the boundary between image and reality. For example, a fly might appear to be sitting on the painting's frame, or a curtain might appear to partly conceal the painting, a piece of paper might appear to be attached to a board, or a person might appear to be climbing out of the painting altogether—all in reference to the contest of Zeuxis and Parrhasius. In a 1964 seminar, the psychoanalyst and theorist Jacques Lacan (1901–1981) observed that the myth of the two painters reveals an interesting aspect of human cognition. While animals are attracted to superficial appearances, humans are enticed by the idea of things that are hidden.

Perspective theories in the 17th century allowed a more fully integrated approach to architectural illusion, which when used by painters to "open up" the space of a wall or ceiling is known as Sant'Ignazio.

The mannerist and Baroque style interiors of Jesuit churches in the 16th and 17th century often included such trompe-l'œil ceiling paintings, which optically "open" the ceiling or dome to the heavens with a depiction of Jesus', Mary's, or a saint's ascension or assumption. An example of a perfect architectural trompe-l'œil is the illusionistic dome in the Jesuit church, Vienna, by Andrea Pozzo, which is only slightly curved but gives the impression of true architecture.

A fanciful form of architectural trompe-l'œil, quodlibet, features realistically rendered paintings of such items as paper-knives, playing-cards, ribbons, and scissors, apparently accidentally left lying around.[2]


Trompe-l'œil can also be found painted on tables and other items of furniture, on which, for example, a deck of playing cards might appear to be sitting on the table. A particularly impressive example can be seen at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, where one of the internal doors appears to have a violin and bow suspended from it, in a trompe l'œil painted around 1723 by Jan van der Vaardt.[3] The American 19th-century still-life painter William Harnett specialized in trompe-l'œil. In the 20th century, from the 1960s on, the American Richard Haas and many others painted large trompe-l'œil murals on the sides of city buildings, and from beginning of the 1980s when German Artist Rainer Maria Latzke began to combine classical fresco art with contemporary content trompe-l'œil became increasingly popular for interior murals. The Spanish painter Salvador Dalí utilized the technique for a number of his paintings.[4]

In other artforms

Trompe-l'œil, in the form of "forced perspective," has long been used in stage-theater set design, so as to create the illusion of a much deeper space than the actual stage. A famous early example is the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, with Vincenzo Scamozzi's seven forced-perspective "streets" (1585), which appear to recede into the distance.

Trompe-l'œil is employed in Donald O'Connor's famous "Running up the wall" scene in the film Singin' in the Rain (1954). During the finale of his "Make 'em Laugh" number he first runs up a real wall. Then he runs towards what appears to be a hallway, but when he runs up this as well we realize that it is a large trompe-l'œil mural. More recently, Roy Andersson has made use of similar techniques in his feature films.

Another decedent of trompe-l'œil is matte painting, a technique in film production where parts of a complicated scene are painted on glass panels that are mounted in front of the camera during shooting. This technique was common before the advent of computer-generated imagery.

Fictional trompe-l'œil appears in many Looney Tunes, such as the Road Runner cartoons, where, for example, Wile E. Coyote paints a tunnel on a rock wall, and the Road Runner then races through the fake tunnel. This is usually followed by the coyote's foolishly trying to run through the tunnel after the road runner, only to smash into the hard rock-face. This sight gag was employed in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Chicago's Near North Side, a 16-story 1929 apartment hotel converted into a 1981 apartment building, was used by Richard Haas for trompe-l'œil murals in homage to Chicago school architecture. One of the building's sides features the Chicago Board of Trade Building, intended as a reflection of the actual building two miles south.[5][6]

Trompe l'oeil, in the form of "illusion painting," is also used in contemporary interior design, where illusionary wall paintings experienced a Renaissance since around 1980. Significant artists in this field are the German muralist Rainer Maria Latzke, who invented, in the '90s, a new method of producing illusion paintings, the Frescography and the English artist Graham Rust.

Examples of trompe-l'œil paintings

Examples of trompe-l'œil murals

Examples of trompe-l'œil sculptures

Examples of trompe-l'œil architecture

Trompe-l'œil artists

Old Masters

19th century and modern masters

Contemporary

Use in films

See also

Notes

External links

  • Trompe-l'Oeil museum in France
  • International Trompe l'Oeil Festival of Lodi – Italy
  • Deceptions and Illusions, National Gallery of Art exhibition on Trompe-l'œil paintings
  • Borges
  • murals.trompe-l-oeil.info, More than 10 000 pictures and 1200 Outdoor murals of France and Europe
  • Fooling the eye Fooling The Eye: A history of trompe l'oeil.
  • Paris: Trompe-l'oeil, surréalisme urbain?, Avenue George V. Text and photography by Catherine-Alice Palagret
  • Painted Ladies, Canada's largest surviving concentration of this art style
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