Trompe-l'œil, which can also be spelled without the hyphen in English, (French: "trick the eye", ) is an art technique involving extremely realistic imagery in order to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects appear in three-dimensions, instead of actually being a two-dimensional painting.
Although the phrase has its origin in the Baroque period, when it refers to perspectival illusionism, use of trompe-l'œil dates back much further. It was (and is) often employed in murals. Instances from Greek and Roman times are known, for instance in Pompeii. A typical trompe-l'œil mural might depict a window, door, or hallway, intended to suggest a larger room.
A version of an oft-told ancient Greek story concerns a contest between two renowned painters. Zeuxis produced a still life painting so convincing, that birds flew down from the sky to peck at the painted grapes. He was then asked by his rival, Parrhasius, to pull back a pair of very tattered curtains in order to see the painting behind them. Parrhasius won the contest, as his painting was the curtains themselves.
With the superior understanding of perspective drawing achieved in the Renaissance, Italian painters of the late Quattrocento such as Andrea Mantegna and Melozzo da Forlì began painting illusionistic ceiling paintings, generally in fresco, that employed perspective and techniques such as foreshortening in order to give the impression of greater space to the viewer below. This type of trompe l'œil illusionism as specifically applied to ceiling paintings is known as di sotto in sù, meaning from below, upward in Italian. The elements above the viewer are rendered as if viewed from true vanishing point perspective. Well-known examples are the Camera degli Sposi in Mantua and Antonio da Correggio's Assumption of the Virgin in the Duomo of Parma.
Similarly, Vittorio Carpaccio and Jacopo de' Barbari, added small trompe-l'œil features to their paintings, playfully exploring the boundary between image and reality. For example, a fly might appear to be sitting on the painting's frame, or a curtain might appear to partly conceal the painting, a piece of paper might appear to be attached to a board, or a person might appear to be climbing out of the painting altogether—all in reference to Zeuxis and Parrhasius.
Perspective theories in the 17th-century allowed a more fully integrated approach to architectural illusion, which when used by painters to "open up" the space of a wall or ceiling is known as quadratura. Examples include Pietro da Cortona's Allegory of Divine Providence in the Palazzo Barberini and Andrea Pozzo's Apotheosis of St Ignatius  on the ceiling of the Roman church of Sant'Ignazio A fanciful form of architectural Trompe-l'œil is known as quodlibet which features realistically rendered paintings of such items as paper-knives, playing-cards, ribbons and scissors, apparently accidentally left lying around, painted on walls.
Trompe-l'œil can also be found painted on tables and other items of furniture, on which, for example, a deck of playing cards might appear to be sitting on the table. A particularly impressive example can be seen at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, where one of the internal doors appears to have a violin and bow suspended from it, in a trompe l'œil painted around 1723 by Jan van der Vaart The American 19th century still-life painter William Harnett specialized in trompe-l'œil. In the 20th century, from the 1960s on, the American Richard Haas and many others painted large trompe-l'œil murals on the sides of city buildings, and trompe-l'œil became increasingly popular for interior murals.
Trompe-l'œil is employed in Donald O'Connor's famous "Running up the wall" scene in the film Singin' in the Rain. During the finale of his "Make 'em Laugh" number he first runs up a real wall. Then he runs towards what appears to be a hallway, but when he runs up this as well we realize that it is a large trompe-l'œil mural.
Another variant of trompe-l'œil is matte painting, a technique used in filmmaking where parts of a complicated scenery are painted on glass panels which are mounted in front of the camera during shooting of the scene. This was for instance used in early Star Wars movies.
Fictional trompe-l'œil is featured in many Looney Tunes, such as the Road Runner cartoons, where, for example, Wile E. Coyote paints a tunnel on a rock wall, and the Road runner then races through the fake tunnel. This is usually followed by the coyote's foolishly trying to run through the tunnel after the road runner, only to smash into the hard rock-face. This sight gag was employed in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
On Chicago’s Near North Side, a 16-story 1929 apartment hotel converted into a 1981 apartment building, was used by Richard Haas for trompe-l'œil murals in homage to Chicago School architecture. One of the building's sides features the Chicago Board of Trade Building, intended as a reflection of the actual building two miles south.
Today, Joanne Gair is a leader of this genre as a body painting specialist. Her paintings were featured for the tenth consecutive year in the 2008 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. She gained iconic status with a Vanity Fair cover of Demi Moore in 1992.
19th century and modern masters