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Fraud paintings: How artists have confused viewers for centuries

Optical illusions are not a new phenomenon, the first “illusionists” were ancient creators. With the development of painting, the skill of artists in creating fake paintings was also improved – at first confusing, always bewitching and memorable.

It is now impossible to determine which of the ancient artists guessed about the possibilities that the image opens on the flat surface of a three-dimensional object. But both the Greeks and the Romans used the drawings on the walls in order to visually enlarge the room, to make it lighter, more spacious, more beautiful – so false windows, doors, atriums appeared. Findings in Pompeii and Herculaneum – ancient Roman cities where most of the frescoes of antiquity have survived – show that even in those days, illusion paintings were popular.
The level of performance of the fraud paintings is illustrated by the dispute that the ancient Greek artists Zeuxis and Parrasius once concluded among themselves. Masters undertook to create images that can not be distinguished from real objects. Zeuxis depicted grapes – so reliably that the surrounding birds immediately flocked to the picture. Satisfied with his skill, he also suggested that Parrasius throw away the crumpled tattered curtain from his work so that the picture could be appreciated. However, he admitted that the curtain is just an image.

Such experiments were not to be expected from the artists of the Middle Ages, strictly following the canons in the visual arts, but with the advent of the Renaissance, the studies of the laws of perspective and chiaroscuro started in antiquity continued, including in order to surprise and confuse the viewer.

The development of “fraudulent” images in Italy and France of the Baroque period (XVII – XVIII centuries) gained particular scope. The architectural and picturesque space of the buildings being built at this time merged into a single whole, a new reality arose literally from the void – it is not surprising that this technique was so interesting to the man of the Renaissance. 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 arches are higher and the interior itself is more voluminous and 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 up was achieved, was called di sotto in su (from Italian – “bottom to top”). A vivid example of an illusion that distorts the idea of ​​the real proportions and position of the building elements was the painting of the dome in the Jesuit Church in Vienna. In reality, the arches have a very slight bend, but thanks to the perfect application of the laws of perspective, the dome seems to be a massive structural element of the temple.

In baroque times, a term appears that will then be used as the name of the picturesque “tricks” – trompley (trompe l’oeil translated from French – “deceive the eye”). Trompley became one of the main entertainments in the decoration and decoration of palaces and castles, and behind them – the houses of citizens who love art and want to surprise.

One of the simplest and most common ways to mislead the viewer was to portray a fake frame – Dutch artists also began to resort to this technique. It is in this part of Europe that illusory painting has gained particular popularity. The Dutch homeowners loved to equip and decorate their homes, and most importantly – they could afford it, and therefore the demand for the work of art masters generated a large number of works, among which there were real masterpieces.

To give the object painted on a flat canvas the illusion of volume, three-dimensionality, thereby confusing people for a while looking at the picture, has become for a long time a fashionable direction in the fine art of the 17th century and entertainment for connoisseurs of painting. Among those who reached the heights of creating art-deception paintings were Samuel van Hoogstraten, a student of Rembrandt himself, Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrehts, later in England – Johann Heinrich Füssli.

In France, Francois de la Motte developed this technique. In the Russian Empire, the work of the artist Fyodor Petrovich Tolstoy attracted the attention of his realistic and thorough execution.

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