Trompe l'oeil in the world of the arts

Trompe l'oeil in the world of the arts

What are trompe l'oeils?

We are going to talk about the trompe l'oeil post in the art world.

But they can occur in many more disciplines including, for example, the kitchen.

In the performing arts as in the cinema and in the theater they have been used a lot, especially before special effects and in sets, as for example, to extend the depth of the stage and thus be able to add a multitude of planes.

«Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes? »Groucho Marx.

Beware because its success is based on the skill of the artist to play with the perspectives and achieve optical effects.

In the case of the trompe l'oeil, what happens is that you tend to believe your senses more, senses that the artist has used for his interest in deceiving your brain.

In the world of art, in particular, the trompe l'oeil painting is usually based on the dark clear and perspective.

The word comes from the French trompe-l'oeil, which we can translate into English as a trick to the eye.

It is an artistic technique of very realistic representation, used mainly in painting, through which objects are represented with a fine detail and looking for the perspective to create a three-dimensional optical illusion in a two-dimensional representation as it is usually a painting or a mural, in case of working on this type of surface.

The technique manages to distort our visual perception by playing, intentionally, with perspective and other optical elements, in a game to determine what is real and what is not.

Trompe l'oeil is therefore a way of painting in a way that it seems that what you observe is perceived as not being painted, but is reality or, if you prefer:

"A painting that strives to mimic reality without errors". Georges Perec

Example of 3D illusionist street painting by Edgar Müller. Source: Cultura Colectiva (magazine).

The Trompe-loiel in architecture

Although above all is known for painting, trompe l'oeil have also been used in architecture.

The trompe-l'oiel has been an auspicious decorative resource to achieve a greater sense of depth in the ceilings and walls widely used since classical antiquity until our days.

In Roman art the first witnesses of this use are already collected, being rescued by the Renaissance and used in later styles.

A typical example of trompe l'oeil would be the mural depicting a window, door or corridor to suggest a larger room.

With a greater understanding of perspective in the Renaissance, Italian painters from the end of the Quattrocento, such as Andrea Mantegna, 1431-1506, and / or Melozzo da Forlí, 1438-1494, began to paint scenes on ceilings, mainly frescoes, employing techniques of visual perspective such as foreshortening, in order to create the impression of greater spaces when viewed from below.

This type of trompe l'oeil applied especially to roofs, is known as "di sotto in sù", "from bottom to top" in Italian.

Many palaces and churches decorated their walls and ceilings with these elements that represented architectural elements, feigned balconies, doors, columns, rooms or open background landscapes.

We can say without fear of making mistakes that in the baroque this tradition was continued, raising even its degree of mastery.

Surprising is what Andrea Pozzo achieved with the false vault painted on canvas that he made in the church of San Ignacio in Rome about the year 1685.

Cupula San Ingacio is a very accomplished Tranpantojo

Even today it is still a very attractive technique to decorate and improve urban aesthetics.

But it has not always had, the trompe l'oeil, this utilitarian end of decorative complement in the architecture.

The trompe l'oeil in the world of painting

Many painters throughout history added trompe l'oeil techniques to their work. Vittorio Carpaccio (1460-1525) and Jacopo de'Barbari (1440-1516) added this technique to their paintings, exploring and playing with image and reality.

A use of the technique that has been established over the years.

In this type of work you can find flies perched on the painting, a curtain hiding part of the painting, a piece of paper attached to a board that does not really exist, a person jumping out of the picture, etc.

The deception can arise invading the space of the spectator, that is, when the painting is projected abandoning the limits of the canvas.

Tempting, as well, who observes to touch the box to see if it is a mere illusion.

The Mannerist and Baroque styles of the Jesuit churches of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries often include examples of trompe l'oeil painted on the vaults, giving the optical impression of open skies to welcome the Ascension of Jesus or Mary.

An example of the above is left to us by the already mentioned artist Andrea Pozzo in the Jesuit church in Vienna. 

But for you to see that the theme comes long a funny story tells us the writer of ancient Rome, Pliny, in his encyclopedia Natural History.

"Always according to Pliny the Greek painters Zeuxis and Parrasios disputed which of them was the one that better represented the reality in his works.

It seems that both were forced to paint a mural to determine who was really the best painter, at least the one that best imitated reality.

Zeuxis claimed for him the status of winner when some birds approached their painted grapes to eat them.

With some urgency he asked Parrasios to remove the curtain that covered his work in order to see it.

To the surprise of Zeuxis no cloth covered the paint of his opponent. Parrasios being the winner of this contest."

Contemporary painters such as René Magritte, Pablo Picasso or Georges Braque, too, have provoked visual deception.

The cubists resorted to the technique of trompe l'oeil in some of their collages when they sought to imitate pieces of materials such as wood or paper that seemed to be attached to the canvas. In fact, not only were they not attached but simply painted on the canvas.

Perhaps one of the works that best represents what trompe l'oeil is performed by Pere Borrell in his work "Fleeing from Criticism" (1874) with the child jumping directly out of the painting.

Pere Borrell -  Fleeing the Critic

But the trompe l'oeil is modernized, it is looking for new applications in interior design where it still survives today and is also very much alive in street art and urban art.

Street artists

Some street artists have specialized in trompe l'oeil pavements of cities, which have to be viewed from a precise perspective to see the effect that the artist wants to cause.

These trompe l'oeil are really anamorphic drawings.

An anamorphosis is an image deformed in such a way that it is only perfectly visible when viewed from the proper perspective.

In this case, the drawing is constructed projected on an oblique plane, in such a way that it remains unintelligible or simulates a very different image if it is not looked at from the exact point of view adopted for the projection.

The designs thus constructed acquire a 3D realism superior to other techniques, the work rises on the pavement seems real, but this, although it seems otherwise, is a painting.

street artists

Urban art

Many trompe l'oeil have been developed as urban art, "street art", a recent art style related to cities and urban life usually exercised by artists who use the city, or at least parts of them as their canvas.

Decorate dividing walls of buildings at different heights or anodyne walls without grace turning them into authentic works of art.

They simulate buildings where there are none or holes through which one can see the imagined interior of houses, etc., etc.

They are usually works of artists collectives and have a remarkable impact on the urban landscape that is transformed by this type of art.

The "street art", since it takes place in public spaces, is controversial since it has caused that in many occasions these urban artists have been seen as vandals destroying private property, although they themselves do not see themselves as such but as dynamic elements of art in the city.

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