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Ancient Illusionism - Deceiving The Viewer.

Art is open to the interpretation of a creative mind. Yet almost all human minds process the same procedures in the same way. There may be a debate on whether we all see colour the same way, but it is no overstatement to say that each of us have fallen for an illusion at least once.

Did you think you saw somebody stood in the distance, but when you look again, you see a bush?

Did you imagine you heard somebody call your name?

Did a sound seem to come from one direction, only to truly be from another?

These experiences are nearly universal, they bind our experiences as people together.

So what if somebody were to capture these fleeting moments as art? This, dear reader, is Illusion Art.


So, where did the practice of Illusion Art begin? The clue is in the word's iconography. Derived from the Latin word "Ludere", which literally means "to play", The word "Illusion" can mean any trick of the senses.


Although many are damaged due to time and lack of preservation, the earliest deliberate attempts at this art form were found in homes of the Greek empire where walls were painted to look like extensions of the home. Sometimes, figures were even painted among these spaces where they would engage in the same activities the people would.


In fact, there is a story that highlights just how good the Greeks were at this.

A famous classical example is found in the book Natural History (77 AD) by the Roman author and philosopher, Pliny the Elder. In it, he describes a contest between two famous Greek painters, namely, Zeuxis and Parrhasius of Ephesus. Both artists wanted to see who the best was, so Zeuxis painted grapes that appeared so real that even birds wanted to peck at them. However, when Zeuxis asked Parrhasius to remove the curtain that was covering his painting, he then realized that the curtain itself was the painting. Thus, Zeuxis admitted defeat – he may have fooled birds, but Paarhasius had managed to fool Zeuxis himself.


After this, in the European Renaissance, ceilings were the main target for Illusionary art. We all know the Cysteine chapel, where the ceiling seems to ascend into the heavens itself. This is itself an example, but there are many other churches and chapels where this was done.


I will track how illusionary art has mutated and grown in the modern day in my next post!

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