History in Trompe-l'il
the phrase has its origin in the Baroque period, when it refers to perspectival
illusionism, use of trompe-l'il dates back much further. It was (and is) often
murals. Instances from
Greek and Roman times are known, for instance in Pompeii. A typical trompe-l'il
mural might depict a window, door, or hallway, intended to suggest a larger
A version of an oft-told
ancient Greek story concerns a contest between two renowned painters. Zeuxis
produced a still life painting so convincing, that birds flew down from the sky
to peck at the painted grapes. He was then asked by his rival, Parrhasius, to
pull back a pair of very tattered curtains in order to see the painting behind
them. Parrhasius won the contest, as his painting was the curtains themselves.
With the superior
understanding of perspective drawing achieved in the Renaissance, Italian
painters of the late Quattrocento such as Andrea Mantegna and Melozzo da Forlì
began painting illusionistic ceiling paintings, generally in fresco, that
employed perspective and techniques such as foreshortening in order to give the
impression of greater space to the viewer below. This type of trompe l'il
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 Assumption of the Virgin in the Duomo of Parma.
Carpaccio and Jacopo de' Barbari, added small trompe-l'il 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
altogetherall in reference to Zeuxis and Parrhasius.
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