Uffizi_GiottoAccording to legend, Giotto, while still an apprentice in Cimaue’s workshop in thirteenth-century Florence painted a fly on the nose of one of his portraits. The deception was so realistic that the master tried to brush it away.

For Giotto this witty Trompe L’oeil was just a good -humored prank, but today this kind of artistic deception is an earnest pursuit and big business. Literally translated, Trompe L’oeil means to ‘deceive the eye’, for a split second, sometimes longer. The onlooker is fooled into believing that what he sees is real. Surprise is the vital element and the technique requires great skill and a consummate use of perspective. The first recorded example of this form of painting is mentioned by the Roman author Pliny the Elder.

More than two thousand years ago in Athens, the painter Zeuixs produced a painting of grapes so realistic that birds flew up to peck them, although Trompe L’oeil has been practiced since the days of the ancient Greeks, it is not an easy technique to master. It must be life-size if it is to fool the eye and requires a mastery of perspective in order to achieve a realistic three-dimensional effect. Realistic rendering of objects is essential if the onlooker is to be taken in. For that reason, nearly all Trompe L’oeil are based on traditional subjects.

Mural in Lake Lure, NC

mural-stphn-wms-300x225Human figures are not successful in Trompe L’oeil as they appear frozen and it is practically impossible to mistake a painted figure for a genuine person. The artist must tempt you to reach and pluck a book off a shelf, touch an intricately carved wooden panel or step down into fantasy landscape. The use of Trompe L’oeil is endless, from ceilings, walls, and floors to hung canvases’. The art of Trompe L’oeil is a trend that has been evolving at a steady pace for years in both England and America and is more popular than ever.

Short Video of Well Known Trompe L’oeil Works