Trompe l’oeil

Trompe l’oeil is French for ‘deceive the eye’; an artistic technique using realistic imagery to create an optical illusion in which the depicted objects appear to exist in three dimensions.

Trompe l’oeil, in the form of “illusion painting”, is often used in contemporary exterior design, like this cafe scene in Montpellier, the city in southern France near the Mediterranean Sea. So, what’s real – and what isn’t ? Well both, an illusion undoubtedly helped when a three dimensional scene is reduced to two dimensions.

The phrase ‘trompe l’oeil’ originated with the artist Louis-Léopold Boilly, who used it as the title of a painting he exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1800, following which the genre gained popularity, with a further Renaissance on the 1980, However, the illusionistic technique associated with Trompe l’oeil dates much further back to Greek and Roman times with examples in Pompeii for instance when a typical Trompe l’oeil mural may depict windows, doors, or people.

A version of an oft-told ancient Greek story concerns Zeuxis (born around 464 BC) who produced a still life painting so convincing that birds flew down to peck at the painted grapes probably smaller than those depicted in the trompe l’oeil (below) celebrating vines and vineyards, in the village of Cebazan, Languedoc-Roussillon, France.

As Albert Einstein said “reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one”.

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