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It's a Matter of Perspective: Rome & Boston


progressive columns give the illusion of depth
Borromini's Perspective, Galleria Spada, Rome

I admit I hadn't heard the term 'Illusionism' in art terms until today when I was viewing Borromini's Perspective in the Galleria Spada, but this seems to be a current re-occurring theme in my travel.

Illusionism is when the artist creates a space within the painting that includes the viewer. An easier way to think about this is that the artist is playing tricks on us.

Perspective is a technique of developing depth and spatial relationships on a flat surface. Or in other words, using math to have our eyes play tricks on us. The first painting using perspective is 'The Tribute Money', by Fillepo Brunelleshi in 1415.

Galleria Spada is a great example of 17th Century nobility and their quest to collect art and artefacts, plus build and decorate homes to the most impressive standards of their day. Borromini's Perspective was commissioned by Cardinal Spada to grace his secret garden. It is now thought that the Cardinal wished to demonstrate the illusion of prosperity: from a distance it is aspirational, but in reality, it means nothing at all.

The forced perspective,build in 1653, has an arcaded courtyard that appears to be 37 meters long, but in actuality is 8 meters. The statue at the end of the courtyard appears to be life-sized, but is only 60 cm in height.

Last month, I toured around Boston following a list of weird things to do and came across the Scarlet O'Hara house on Beacon Hill. The house is of Greek Revivalist style and located at the end of Rollins Place, just off Revere Street...or is it? The O'Hara house is actually a detailed exercise in Illusionism and perspective, painted to obscure a brick wall over 30 years ago.

I imagine it is best not to compare these two as works of art, especially when traveling with a firey Italian, but the concept of space manipulation is still the same.

There are many examples if Illusionism or Perspective, forced or not, all over the place; from Constantine's Aula Palatina-Trier, to Potemkin's steps in Odessa, to anyone who had pretended to push over the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This technique is used to create illusions of space, and sometimes delusions of grandeur. It is amazing what one can do with a little paint, or concrete, a photograph and a good dollop of math skills!

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