ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Trompe l'oeil Painting | Art History

Updated on April 1, 2013
Edward Collier's trompe l'oeil painting.
Edward Collier's trompe l'oeil painting. | Source

Trompe l'Oeil is a style of largely Western art that strives to present subject matter in so realistic a fashion as to appear deceptively lifelike. The French term trompe l'oeil, which means "trick the eye," first appeared around the year 1800 and has since been widely used as a description of a particular genre of highly realistic art. Trompe l'oeil effects have a long history in the production of art; they have been applied primarily to painting, but have been used in sculpture and other objects as well.

Until the advent of premodernist ideas in the late 19th century, it was generally assumed as an important goal in pictorial representation that the painted object should be as like the object itself as possible. What separates trompe l'oeil from other forms of realism, however, is the deliberate intention to deceive the viewer by blurring the distinction between representation and reality. Extraordinary trompe l'oeil effects have also been used by artists simply as a show of virtuosity.

Although few examples of works incorporating trompe l'oeil survive from antiquity, documentary sources illustrate that such effects were common in Greco-Roman culture. A story related by the 1st-century A.D. writer Pliny the Elder tells of the Greek painter Zeuxis (active 435–390 B.C.), who rendered grapes so realistically that birds descended on them only to be disappointed that they were not the actual fruit. Convinced that he had thus produced the most realistic painting ever made, he challenged the artist Parrhasios (active 440–390 B.C.) to unveil his own handiwork for comparison. When Parrhasios showed that the drapery supposedly covering his creation was in fact a painted effect, Zeuxis proclaimed his companion the greater artist, since he could fool not only birds but also a fellow painter. This tale, well known and often repeated in the Renaissance, became a standard by which painterly quality came to be measured for centuries.

Source

In the early Renaissance interest in realism gradually overcame the dependence on stylized forms that were the heritage of Byzantine art. In an early example of trompe l'oeil painting, Flemish artist Jan van Eyck's diptych The Annunciation (c. 1435–1451; Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid) presents the figures as realistically rendered sculptures within painted architectural niches. The masterful shadows, and the angel's wing that overlaps the architectonic elements to project into the viewer's space, give the panels a convincing illusion of three-dimensionality.

An important advance in trompe l'oeil painting occurred in the 15th century, with the Florentine architect Leon Battista Alberti's theory on one-point perspective. His ideas made it much easier to reproduce a convincing depiction of three-dimensional space in a two-dimensional format. Alberti himself described painting as "a window through which we observe the scene represented beyond the frame." Artists soon employed this concept to its best advantage. Use of perspective to create spatial illusions became particularly widespread in architectural settings. In Andrea Mantegna's ceiling fresco in the Camera degli Sposi, in Mantua's Palazzo Ducale, the viewer looks up at foreshortened figures against a stone railing, with a receding space above as if the ceiling were indeed open to the sky. Other notable architectural uses of trompe l'oeil include Francesco di Giorgio Martini's Gubbio studiolo, or small private study (c. 1465; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City), in which panels of inlaid wood meticulously reproduce partially opened doors revealing books, musical instruments, and other objects. Baldassare Peruzzi's Sala delle Prospettive (c. 1515), in the Villa Farnesina, Rome, in which a wall opens into a painted vista over the city, achieved not only fantasy but also architectural effects that were far cheaper than actual building elements.

Source

Trompe l'oeil painting became extremely fashionable in 17th-century Holland. A common trick of artists was to paint a frame or doorway, with the subject in some way overlapping the painted frame, as if protruding into the space of the viewer. Gerrit von Honthorst's painting Joyous Minstrel (1623; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) carries this idea to a masterful extreme as the subject extends an arm so far forward as to give the impression of the painted musician's sharing the viewer's side of the picture frame. In a tribute to the ancient master Parrhasios, it was also common to paint a curtain, ostensibly obscuring part of a painting. Examples abound, including Gerrit Houckgeest's Interior of the Oude Kerk in Delft (c. 1650; Rijksmuseum).

In the United States during the 19th century, trompe l'oeil painting enjoyed a remarkable vogue. Painters such as William Michael Harnett, John Haberle, and John Frederick Peto were noted for ultrarealistic depictions of ordinary objects in a shallow space. Among the most common images were objects—letters, money, pictures, tickets, newspaper clippings, and the like—pinned to a wall or board, painted to such a high degree of realism as to appear to be actual objects on an actual board. Among the best-known American artworks of this type is the Harnett painting The Old Violin (1886; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), which portrays a violin and a sheet of music hanging on a door. The Slate (c. 1895; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), by Haberle, shows a chalkboard with half-erased writing. (This latter device would be revisited a century later with an abstract expressionist twist in Cy Twombly's so-called "blackboard paintings," including his 1967 Untitled, in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.)

Even in the 20th century, when realism was no longer the dominant style, trompe l'oeil had significant staying power. The Belgian painter René Magritte, for example, used trompe l'oeil as an important element in his surrealist approach of contrasting illusion and reality; in his painting The Human Condition, or La Condition humaine (1933; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), for example, the painted landscape on a canvas on an easel before an open window merges with the painted landscape behind it. American photorealist paintings, such as Chuck Close's Big Self-Portrait (1969; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis), consciously reproduced photographs, complete with the camera's distortions.

A notable 20th-century development is the use of the trompe l'oeil concept of imitating reality applied to three-dimensional objects. Jasper Johns, in Painted Bronze (1964; artist's collection, on extended loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art), convincingly reproduces two cans of ale, although the ironic title points out that the object is not what it appears to be; Duane Hanson's Museum Guard (1976; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Mo.) has fooled many a museumgoer when seen from across the room; and Wendell Castle's Ghost Clock (1985; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.), a grandfather clock partly covered by a sheet, turns out on closer inspection to have been carved from a single block of wood, even though the soft contours and white color of the hanging sheet are in sharp contrast to the crisply carved and naturally toned wood in the clock's base. (Castle's art, in fact, is descended from centuries of illusionistic sculpture, its greatest master arguably Grinling Gibbons [1648–1721], the English woodcarver who, among his other chefs-d'oeuvre, created a lacelike cravat in limewood that was owned, and worn at least once, by the writer and aesthete Horace Walpole.)

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)