The trompe l’oeil technique in art is used in order to create optical illusions and three dimensional scenes, giving the impression of bigger spaces and confusing the eye as it’s blurring reality with imagination. In Rome this technique has been adopted in both Renaissance and baroque works of art and some wonderful examples can be admired in the following locations:
- Sant’ Ignazio di Loyola: Situated on one side of the marvelous square of the same name, Chiesa di Sant’ Ignazio is one of the most exquisite churches of the Roman capital. Inspired by the impressive Jesuit church of Gesu, it certainly doesn’t lack luxury and theatrical effect. The” side chapels close to the high altar are luxuriously decorated with ancient green marble and huge lapis lazuli stones, but the most impressive and breathtaking element is the tromp l’ oeil fresco on the nave’s ceiling by the “wizard” of illusion painting, Andrea Pozzo. His imposing depiction of St Ignatius entering heaven surrounded by angels and welcomed by God, will leave you speechless as one dimension becomes a 3-dimensional wondrous perspective and you feel the nave’s ceiling disappearing up in the sky. Another illusory trick is the flat canvas painting representing the interior of the dome, which due to lack of funds was never finished. There are particular marks on the nave’s floor where you can stand and best observe the illusionist effects, walk a few meters towards the high altar and you’ll see the dome’s cavity become a flat surface! When exiting the church, spend a few moments to observe the wonderful details of the elegant Piazza Sant’ Ignazio. It was designed in rococo style by Filippo Raguzzini and its theatrical feeling was studied to the very last detail, from the buildings’ facades to the balconies’ railings.
- Sant’ Andrea della Valle: It’s huge dome, the second largest in Rome, can be seen almost from every part of the city and its magnificent baroque facade is known for its asymmetry, as it’s decorated with only one angel on its left side. Its design combines works of Giacomo della Porta and Carlo Maderno. The interior is lavishly decorated in rich, golden and bronze colors, with marble chapels, tombs, statues and Corinthian pillars , while the high altar is dominated by the representation of Saint Andrew’s martyrdom. Two rival artists, Giovanni Lanfranco and Domenichino are responsible for the gorgeous frescoes that decorate the ceiling. The apse is the work of Domenichino, who depicted the four Evangelists in the vault and the dome, the real show stopper, is Lanfranco’s illusionist fresco “Assumption of Our Lady Into the Glories of Paradise”. In this first example of tromp l’ oeil, consecutive spirals of clouds with angels, prophets and martyrs disappear towards the sky and really seam as if they’re hovering and flying above us in a circular movement! The church is also known among opera fans for being the set of the first act of Puccini’s Tosca.
- Villa Farnesina: This beautiful noble summer residence is an elegant Renaissance building that belonged to the Farnese family, one of the most influential papal families, to which it owns its name. It was built on the other side of river Tiber, just opposite Palazzo Farnese which was the family’s main residence. The two buildings were intended to be connected by a private bridge designed by Michelangelo. The original owner of the villa was Agostino Chigi, a rich Tuscan banker who commissioned the designs to Baldassare Peruzzi, an also Tuscan architect, and the decoration to the most famous artists of his time, like Raphael, Sodoma, Sebastiano del Piombo and Giulio Romano.
Even though the most famous frescoes are Raphael’s “Cupid and Psyche” and “The triumph of Galatea” in the loggia, Peruzzi himself painted the first floor’s central lounge with frescoes in tromp l’ oeil technique. His ingenious trick makes the interior space look as if it’s expanding to the gardens. Painted marble columns and painted balconies double the length of the room and give it a whole new perspective. Stand in the center of the room and allow yourself to be tricked by Peruzzi’s brilliant design. A visit to Villa Farnesina is a wonderful way to start a day of exploring Transtevere, one of the most beautiful areas in Rome.