The Painted Illusion: Villa Facade Restored
21, October 2014 § 4 Comments
by Jane Morris Pack
The 25th anniversary of the Italian Session now underway at The Aegean Center has been a delightful and rich experience for all of the faculty and students. In September, we arrived in Italy to find that our villa above the town of Pistoia had recently been restored to its original appearance and the 16th century painted trompe l’oeil facade on the garden side has been redone. The painted elements enhanced the plain walls with illusionistic stone work and invented windows. The paint echoes the front of the building but does not coincide with all the actual windows on the back. This use of illusion to provoke symmetry even when it does not exist was questioned by some of the students who could not understand why the paint and the architecture do not coincide. But the tradition of illusionistic painting to achieve perfection is a long standing practice in Italy. There are many false windows and arches painted on buildings to balance design.
We had the additional treat of watching the restoration painters demonstrate for us the painting technique. The Bellini family of artists, father and sons, follow a long tradition of painters using techniques which date back hundreds of years. The straight lines were drawn using a simple stick held against the wall and a sure hand in the artisan. The paint was mixed in clear divisions for the highlight, basic tone and three shadow values. As we watched, a three dimensional frame appeared before us, simply and carefully constructed by the master painter. It was fascinating to observe and humbling to understand his command of his craft. As he put on the final paint to represent the cast shadow, the frame seemingly lifted off the wall into the third dimension. We were delighted to have this firsthand insight into the time honored craft of illusionistic perspective painting.