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A Pair of Trompe L'Oeil Compositions

France | 18th century
Measurements: Each 19 3⁄4” x 13 1⁄2” (50 x 35 cm)

Each comprising an illusionistic drawing of a trompe l’oeil composition, depicting books and book pages, engravings, mezzotints, watercolours, drawings, and scientific diagrams, arranged on a background depicting a classical landscape.

Studies into the science of optics and vision took great strides forward during the 16th and 17th centuries, thanks in part to Renaissance artists’ determination to depict three-dimensional objects on a flat plane. Artists not only led the way with linear perspective and camera obscuras, but also conducted more complex experiments – Samuel van Hoogstraten, for example, designed illusionistic peepshows using composite perspectives.

As a natural meeting point between art and science, optical trickery was associated with the cabinet of curiosities from the earliest collections onwards. Two of the first studioli, built by Federico da Montefeltro in Urbino and Gubbio in the 1470s, are entirely lined with spectacular trompe l’oeil inlay. The illusionistic marquetry panels appear to show each cupboard door flung open, revealing the eclectic collections concealed within.