Trompe L'oeil Painting

Trompe l'oeil is a French term literally meaning "that which deceives the eye." Community Bridge is one of the most unusual trompe l'oeil murals in the world. There are many photos of this artwork throughout this web site. The entire bridge was painted by hand to create the illusion of an old stone bridge. The illusion is so strong that art professionals sometimes stand next to the bridge and ask where the mural is, unaware that they are looking right at it. Tour guides have noticed birds trying to land on the gate that is part of The Unfound Door. Several times birds have been observed attempting to alight on the fountain. And the city of Frederick receives regular complaints from visitors excited about the mural project but aghast that the city would allow ivy to grow across the priceless mural, unaware that the tendrils of ivy they saw climbing the painted stonework were themselves part of the painted illusion.

The illusory stonework of the bridge mural contains mysterious, precise symbols that seem to be carved in stone. These symbols depict ideas contributed by individuals of all ages and backgrounds in answer to the question, "What object represents the spirit of community to you?

About the significance of illusion in Community Bridge, Cochran says, "How easily paint can fool the eye is a metaphor for how easily we're fooled by surface differences in each other, like race, attitude, language, and gender. These lock us into stereotypes of who it is OK to connect with. What could be more amazing than the fact that we are divided by illusions every day, by superficial aspects of each other that fool us into thinking we are fundamentally different, when in fact we are all fundamentally the same. That is the story that emerges when you study all the ideas in the bridge from all kinds of people."

Assistant Pam Jaffe spend seven months painting ivy leaves on the bridge, until her whole world started to look green.

A Short History of trompe L'oeil

As a painting style, trompe L'oeil has a history extending back as far as 400 B.C. and was part of the rich culture of the Greek and Roman Empires, where horses are said to have neighed at a mural of horses they recognized. The only ancient trompe l'oeil murals that survive today are those unearthed at Pompeii.

The famous art historian Vasari reports a story of a famous contest of antiquity held between two renowned painters to see who was the finest. The first painter produced a still life so convincing that birds flew down from the sky to peck at the painted grapes. The master then turned to his opponent in triumph and said, "Draw back the curtains and reveal your painting." The second painter knew then that he had won, because the "curtains" were part of his painting.

Trompe l'oeil mural painting resurfaced during the Renaissance and Baroque eras and was used to extend churches and palaces by "opening" the ceiling or a wall. The muralists of the day - Andrea Mantegna, Paolo Uccello and Paolo Veronese, among the most notable - experimented with perspective and found trompe l'oeil architecture to be their ally as they strove to paint what architect Leone Alberti called "a window into space."

In the mid to late 1800s in the United States, William Harnett revived trompe l'oeil still life easel painting, and his paintings are today acquired by major museums for millions of dollars. A very labor intensive technique, trompe l'oeil fell out of favor after the industrial revolution when mass produced items became the rage. There are few artists - and even fewer muralists - who execute this demanding style of art today.

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