Trompe l’oeil art in Italy: five favorite works

Trompe l’oeil is a French phrase meaning to trick the eye, so artists have used this technique for centuries to create the illusion of space or depth. I love the fun trompe l’oeil “windows” on the buildings in the seaside town of Camogli, but there is a lot of significant trompe l’oeil art in Italy, so I’ve picked five of Italy’s most famous. Take note, because you could easily walk by any of these and not realize your eye was being tricked. These are especially good to add to an itinerary when traveling to Italy with kids, because these single pieces of art are much quicker to visit compared to a museum, and because they will elicit an “oh wow, cool!” reaction from kids.

San ignacio Xuvira flickr


1. Ceiling of Sant’Ignazio in Rome is full of trompe l’oeil done by Andrea Pozzo. Both the dome (photo below) and the ceiling (photo above) were created to give the eye the illusion of depth where there is very little. There are even marble markers on the floor of the church so the viewer knows exactly where to stand for the best perspective. 

Ignazio dome wikimedia


2. Palazzo Spada, Rome This trompe l’oeil sculpture was done by Francesco Borromini. The floor is actually inclined, and the columns decrease in size, making the distance between the viewer and the sculpture seem 37 meters (121 feet) long when in reality the distance is just 8 meters (26 feet). The statue seems life-sized to the eye, but it’s only 60 cm (23 inches) tall. 

Palazzo spada flickr anthony majanlahti

3. Villa Farnesina in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood is famous for its art, including some by Raphael. But it also houses a well-known trompe l’oeil done by artist Baldassare Peruzzi: standing in the correct spot, you’ll see a window with pillars at the end of the room. Move a few inches away and you’ll change the perspective and realize it’s not a window at all, but a painting. 

Villa farnesina @@@@ flickr

4. Mantua’s Ducal Palace houses a trompe l’oeil oculus done by Andrea Mantegna, in the Camera degli Sposi (Bridal Chamber). This was closed for repair for a couple of years after being damaged in the earthquake of 2012 but has now reopened.

Mantegna mantova klio


5. House of the Vetti in Pompeii has three trompe l’oeil windows.

The House of the Vetti

Church of San Ignacio dome from Wikimedia commons; ceiling by XuviraPalazzo Spada photo by Anthony Majanlahti; Villa Farnesina by @@@@@Mantegna in Mantua by Kilo’; Photo of Pompeii by Callicrates2003. 

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Posted by on Jun 7, 2010 in Art | 16 Comments


  1. John S.
    June 7, 2010

    The Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza is a great one, and so is the Assumption of the Virgin in Parma

  2. Madeline
    June 7, 2010

    John thanks so much for pointing those out, they are both excellent. The teatro olimpico is a true gem…

  3. Kristin Flickinger
    June 8, 2010

    The Palazzo Strozzi in Florence had a fantastic tromp l’oeil exhibit last Fall.Interactive parts, as well.
    We went and had a blast.

  4. Madeline
    June 8, 2010

    Thanks Kristin! Wish I could have seen the exhibit – and painting #3 of the link you posted is my favorite trompe l’oeil *ever* – love it.

  5. Ann GH
    June 8, 2010

    Great post, Madeline! My 12-year-old, who loves art (and just learned to say “trompe l’oeil” in her French class) will love these!

  6. Madeline
    June 8, 2010

    Thanks Ann! Tell your daughter not to miss the additional two posted by John in the comments as well…

    • Fiqih
      July 29, 2012

      1. My favorite was Alice Vanderbilt Shepard by John Singer Sargent. I liked it bauscee she looks kinda shy and like she doesn’t want to be painted. 2. I saw that alot of artist took a darker color and painted it around the lighter color to make it look like its coming out of the painting.3.Trompe l’oel is when a object in a painting looks relistic, like its coming out of the painting.

  7. Karen
    June 18, 2010

    I’m not sure that it’s Top 5 — or even 10 — material, but my boys and I enjoyed the Bramante painting in Santa Maria Presso di San Satiro in Milan, very close to the Duomo:

  8. Madeline
    June 18, 2010

    Karen thanks so much! As you say it may not be among the top ones in Italy, but that one has special meaning for me, as I used to live around the corner. Also, it’s close to my favorite bakery in Milan, Princi! Thanks for the reminder 🙂

    • Carol
      July 28, 2012

      I Like The Painting Of William M. Harnett.The Reason I Like This Pisture Is Because The Artist’s Used Real Things In This painting,He Made The Little Africa American Look Like He Was trnyig To Get Work For This Family Because The paper Behind The Boy Has Been Riped,And Hes Clothies Look Old And The Bottons On Hes Vetest Has Different Bottons Like the One In The Middle.some Maybe These people Were Poor Back than.

  9. Angelika
    July 29, 2012

    1. The one I liked was Still life of flowers and fruit with a river lscdanape in the distance, it’s artist is Roesen, it was full of color. It had a purple sky in the background with purple mountains. And there was a plate full of flowers drooping dew and on the side was fruit and a glass of water with two lemons floating in it, the reason why I liked it was because of the blending.2. I beleive i could include more color blending.3.It means to fool the eyes .

  10. tapir tales
    October 10, 2016

    Great overview. The talent of Borromini is so underrated. His geometric baroque designs are superior to Raphael if you ask me.
    keep rocking – Tapir Tales

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