Trompe l’oeil in Florence

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on December 9, 2009

From the Palazzo Strozzi’s website:

Art and Illusions
Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 16 October 2009 – 24 January 2010

Curated by Annamaria Giusti

Sebastiano Lazzari, "Still Life with Peaches and Armillary Sphere on 'Trompe l’oeil Board' Ground," second half of the 18th century (Venice, Gallerie dell’Accademia)

From ancient Greco-Roman mosaics and frescoes to European masterpieces of the 1300s to today, two hundred works from Italian and international museums and private collections tell the intriguing and spectacular history of trompe-l’oeil, the art of deceiving the eye. The theme of deception, illusion, and the eternal tension between fiction and reality is shown not only in painting, but in the richness it has always enjoyed: sculpture, intarsia, scagliola, pietre dure, porcelain, etc. Examples exhibited include faux armoirs, half-open, with books inside, wood intarsia of small Renaissance studios, scagliola tabletops and stones portraying seemingly prehensile objects, soup tureens and table furnishings in the shape of vegetables, anatomical and botanical wax models.

The exhibit also dedicates a significant amount of space to wall decorations and interiors (detached frescoes from Ancient Rome, where the theme of deception gave life to a school) and to Flemish artists and their innovations in the trompe-l’oeil genre. . .

Section 4: Paperwork

Giuseppe della Santa “‘Deception’ with Papers, Cameos, and a Medal,” 1777 (Florence: Fondazione Longhi)

The popularity of paper objects in trompe l’œil was due both to their two-dimensional nature, which increased their effectiveness as illusions, and to their being such a normal part of daily life, where paper was essential for study, messages, business, art and games. This varied paper repertoire which was part and parcel of the daily experience of clients, collectors or more simply the public at large, lent itself to fanciful combinations and painterly simulation, from the mastery of Gijsbrechts’ grand Letterboard to the meticulous 18th-century compositions by the Florentine Della Santa family comprising engravings, printed paper and stucco bas-reliefs. Nor does it come as a surprise that this favourite theme found an even more realistic home on table surfaces displaying collections of paper objects designed to deceive both the eye and the touch, or that paper fleetingly came to rest on porcelain plates, just waiting for a hand to pick it up. . .

Section 6: Three-Dimensional Deception: Plastic Art between Realism, Artifice, and Instruction

Waxworks Workshop of the Imperial and Royal Museum of Natural History and Physics of Florence, “Model of a ‘Persica flore magno’ (prunus persica, or ripe and juicy peach),” late 18th century, polychrome wax, wood

Sculpture, too, allowed itself to be seduced by the idea of perfecting its potential for illusion, favoured by its true three-dimensional nature and rendered even more realistic by the use of colour. On the other hand, sculpture’s physical quality also limited the game of allusion and illusion on which trompe l’œil’s intellectual and technical appeal was based, keeping it pegged to the threshold of hyperrealism down the ages. Thus we move from the poignantly realistic polychrome terracotta work of Guido Mazzoni, to the Baroque artifice that produced unsettling and vaguely grotesque “clones” in the field of portraiture, foreshadowing the irony in the contemporary versions of this ancient genre, manufactured using plastic resin. Wax’s tried and tested potential for imitation was exploited for educational purposes from the 18th century onwards, to produce study aids that conjugate scientific clarity with artistic mastery in the anatomical waxworks from La Specola, while it provides the added value of individual pieces of décor in the botanical waxworks contained in false books or in real porcelain cachepots. . .

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Rachel Spence reviews the exhibition for the Financial Times (28 October 2009). Andrea Gáldy’s review (excerpted below) appears in the December issue of Apollo Magazine:

Magdalena Margrethe Bärens, “Melon,” embroidery on fabric, mounted on cardboard, second half of the 18th century (Copenhagen: National Museum of Denmark)

Trompe l’oeil is art that willingly deceives the senses, most of all the eyes. It plays with its audience and invades their space. There are different kinds of trompe l’oeil, ranging from depictions so naturalistic that one could take them for the real thing to familiar objects made of unexpected materials, such as a convincing-looking melon, lent by the National Museum of Denmark, that is actually made from card and embroidery (1737-1808). The exhibition is challenging in more than one sense: it invites you to look, think and be deceived, to look once again, and finally to get the joke (which is firmly on the spectator).

The art displayed is a manifestation of the artifex ludens, the artist at play. . . This exhibition includes some 150 works of art, from classical antiquity to the present day, in media that range from needlework to holograms. This startling profusion reveals that trompe l’oeil is an important as well as a neglected genre. . .

Gáldy’s full review can be found here»

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