Trompe l’oeil: Andrea Mantegna

Throughout history, many kings and princes have commissioned lavish works of art to decorate the rooms in their palaces, enhancing the impressiveness of their palaces and visually displaying their authority and wealth. Ludovico Gonzaga was one of these princes. During the fifteenth and sixteenth century, many artists were paid to decorate his palace. One of the most spectacular examples is the Duke’s bed chamber and audience hall, the Camera Picta (Painted Room), whose ceilings were painted by artist Andrea Mantegna (ca. 1431-1506).

Interior of the Camera Picta in the Palazzo Ducale

ceiling of the Camera Picta in the Palazzo Palace

The paintings on the walls and ceilings of the Camera Picta by Mantegna are frescoes. In his frescoes, Mantegna painted using illusionism, effectively employing depth, aerial perspective, color, etc. In the interior of the Camera Picta, Mantegna decorated the walls with many different paintings. The particular scenes depicted in each painting are still a subject of scholarly debate and may or may not be related to one another. As impressive as these paintings are, I think that the trompe l’oeil (French for “fools the eye”) painted on the ceiling of the Duke’s bed chamber is even more impressive.

In the ceiling painting, Mantegna skillfully integrated painted and real architectural design. The ceiling painting in the Camera Picta room is the very first painting to ever depict the point of view of a ceiling seen from below (in Italian, these types of paintings are called di sotto in su, meaning “from below upward”). In the painting, an oculus is created in the ceiling and the ceiling seems to open up to a beautiful, clear, light blue, cloud-filled sky. Putti (cupids) look down at the viewer, creating an interesting twist in roles as the viewer becomes the viewed. The putti are very foreshortened and create an amorous mood in the Room of the Newlyweds. There are also painted spectators who look down at the viewer, smiling. The peacock, seemingly random, holds great significance. It is an attribute of Juno, Jupiter’s bride, who oversees lawful marriages. Thus, Mantegna pulled off an impressive artistic feat, using perspective and symbolism.

I am so impressed by Mantegna’s paintings, especially his trompe l’oeil painting of the ceiling of the Camera Picta. I think he very effectively used the real and painted architectural structures of the ceiling and the painting, respectively, to enhance the appearance of the ceiling opening up to a beautiful blue sky. What a nice view to have right above your bed! In this regard, I think that Mantegna’s trompe l’oeil really does fool the eye.

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