Art That Tricks the Eyes

Art has a magical way of activating our imagination and influencing our lives. However, some artists have taken this a step further and used their skills to create illusions giving the impression that what you see is real. This art technique is referred to as Trompe-l’œil, or to “deceive the eye”. Illusions in architecture based on the perspective of the viewer can be seen all throughout art history, but the phrase trompe l’oeil originated during the Baroque period. This style of art was all about drama and grandeur, so it makes sense that optical illusions would gain popularity during this time.

There are so many inspiring works of art that feature this technique, but in the style of our post on Secrets Hidden in Famous Works of Art, we decided to share some of our favorites.


Escaping Criticism by Pere Borrell del Caso, 1874.

An accomplished portrait artist, Pere Borrell del Caso is most widely known for his trompe l’oeil masterpiece seen above. It not entirely clear what is meant by the title, but as he was a firm believer in realism and not the romanticism in art that was being taught, many believe that the piece symbolized the artists attempts to escape the confines of the academic methods being taught.

Portrait of a Carthusian by Petrus Christus, 1446.

In this portrait by Petrus Christus, the Carthusian Monk was painting in a way that gave the figure a 3-dimensional look. By elongating certain features and using a complex lighting scheme, it looks as though you are looking at a figure through a window. Aside from the most obvious illusion, there is also a fly sitting on the bottom of the frame. Art historians have many theories about what the fly represents, but one historian believe this is to show painting prowess.

Vanitas Still Life by Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts (17th Century)

Gijsbrechts was a Flemish painter working during the later part of the 17th Century. He specialized in optical illusion painting, and painted roughly 22 trompe l’oeil. Many are in the style of the piece seen below, where it looked as though you were seeing the painting being assembled.

Trompe-l'oeil by Henry Fuseli, 1750.

Most famous for his supernatural paintings, such as The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli is attributed to this painting simply entitled “Trompe-l’oeil”. It looks as though the drawing is attached to a piece of wood, but if attributions are correct this painting is all oil on canvas, so even the wood is painted.

Andrea Pozzo's ceiling of Rome's Jesuit church of Sant'Ignazio, 1685-1694.

This multi-disciplinary artist and art theoretician is most well know for his masterpiece of quadratura, or illusionistic ceiling paintings. The frescoes seen here depict a vaulted ceiling with figures and architecture are intertwined. The painting gives the illusion that the ceiling ascends high into the sky, when in fact the ceiling is flat. Perspective at it’s finest. There is also another painting that when viewed from a certain angle, gives the illusion of a dome. Click the image for more on this breathtaking example of art that tricks the eye.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.

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Photographer, art historian, freelance writer, and Community Manager here at Redbubble.