Picture-tricks: How over the centuries artists confused the audience
Optical illusions are not new, the first “illusionists” were the ancient creators. With the development of painting, the skill of artists in creating paintings-deceptions was improved – initially confusing, always fascinating and memorable.
It is already impossible to determine which of the ancient artists had guessed about the possibilities that an image opens up on the flat surface of a three-dimensional subject. But both the Greeks and the Romans used drawings on the walls in order to visually enlarge the room, make it lighter, more spacious, more beautiful – this was how fake windows, doors, and atriums appeared. Finds in Pompeii and Herculaneum – the ancient Roman cities, where most of the frescoes of antiquity are preserved – show that even at that time paintings-illusions were popular.
The level of execution of the fraud pictures is illustrated by the controversy that the ancient Greek artists Zeuxis and Parrasius once concluded between themselves. Masters undertook to create images that can not be distinguished from real objects. Zeuxis depicted grapes – yes, so reliably that neighboring birds immediately flocked to the picture. Satisfied with his skill, he suggested that Parrasia should also throw away the crumpled, tattered curtain from his work so that the picture could be appreciated. However, he admitted that the curtain is only an image.
From the artists of the Middle Ages, strictly following the canons in the visual arts, such experiments were not to be expected, but with the advent of the Renaissance, studies of the laws of perspective and light and shade, begun in antiquity, continued to amaze and confuse the viewer.
The development of fraudulent images in Italy and France of the Baroque period (XVII – XVIII centuries) acquired a special scope. The architectural and picturesque space of buildings erected at this time merged into a single whole, a new reality arose literally from emptiness – it is not surprising that this technique was so interesting for the Renaissance person. As in the period of ancient art, one of the main goals of creating such illusions was the desire to visually expand the room, to create the impression that the vaults are higher, and the interior itself is larger and more airy.
One of the first masters who used this idea in his work was Andrea Mantegna. The technique, at which the effect of stretching the space upward, was achieved, was called di sotto in su (from Italian – “bottom-up”). A vivid example of the illusion that distorts the idea of the real proportions and the position of the elements of the building was the painting of the dome in the Jesuit Church in Vienna. In reality, the vaults have a very small bend, but thanks to the perfect application of the laws of perspective, the dome seems to be a massive structural element of the temple.
At the time of the Baroque, the term appears, which will then be used as the name of the pictorial “tricks” – tromplay (trompe l’oeil translated from French – “fool the eyes”). Tromplay became one of the main entertainment for the decoration and decoration of palaces and castles, and behind them – and houses of citizens who love art and want to surprise.
One of the easiest and most common ways to mislead the viewer was to depict a fake frame – Dutch artists began to resort to this technique. It is in this part of Europe that illusory painting has gained particular popularity. Dutch homeowners loved to equip and decorate their homes, and most importantly – could afford it, and therefore the demand for works of masters of painting generated a large number of works, among which were true masterpieces.
To give an object the illusion of volume, three-dimensionality written on a flat canvas, thereby confusing people looking at the picture for some time, has become for a long time a fashionable trend in visual art of the 17th century and the entertainment of painting connoisseurs. Among those who achieved special heights in the art of creating frauds of art were Samuel van Hoogstraten, a student of Rembrandt himself, Cornelius Norbertus Guissbrechts, and later in England Johann Heinrich Fussli.