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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
5. House of the Vetti in Pompeii has three trompe l’oeil windows.
Church of San Ignacio dome from Wikimedia commons; ceiling by Xuvira; Palazzo Spada photo by Anthony Majanlahti; Villa Farnesina by @@@@@; Mantegna in Mantua by Kilo’; Photo of Pompeii by Callicrates2003.
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