Thursday, September 10, 2009

Trompe L’oeil

by Lauren Stewart-Ebert

“Escaping Criticism” by Pere Borrell del Caso, 1874.

Tromp l’oeil is a centuries old style of painting meant to, literally, “trick the eye”.

An ancient Greek story dating to about 500 BC tells of a contest between two famous painters of the time, Zeuxis and Parrhasius. Zeuxis painted a still life so real, birds flew to the canvas to peck at the grapes. He then told Parrhasius to unveil his painting, which was hidden behind a pair of tattered curtains. Parrhasius won. His painting was not hidden by the curtains but was the curtains.

Pompeian fresco

Some of the oldest surviving examples of tromp l’oeil are found in the remains of Pompeii, Italy. Typical tromp l’oeil of this period might depict windows or doors looking onto beautiful landscapes or columns and paneling enhancing the richness of the decor.

Pompeian fresco

Pompeian fresco

During the Middle Ages a decrease in wealth and stability led to a drop off in artistic achievement. It was not until the Renaissance when perspective drawing was fully explored and painters once again created stunning tromp l’oeil works.

“Triumph of the Sacred Name of Jesus” by Giovanni Batista Gaulli, 1679. The Church of the Gesu in Rome, Italy.

Italian fresco painters of the 1400’s experimented with foreshortening on ceilings, referred to as “di sotto in sù” (from below), a technique which creates the illusion of greater space.

“The Camera degli Sposi” by Andrea Mantegna, 1474. The Ducal Palace in Mantua, Italy

An early example of this architectural trompe l’oeil can be found in the Santa Maria presso San Satiro church in Milan, Italy. Constructed in the late 1400’s, the church’s proximity to an existing road meant the choir could not be built as deep as originally planned. Instead, architects Giovanni Antonio Amadeo and Donato Bramante created a richly detailed theatrical apse in bas-relief. The illusion was a success. Although the space appeared to be several feet deep, it actually only measured a mere 38 inches.

The choir of the Santa Maria presso San Satiro in Milan, Italy

One of the most spectacular examples of this style is found at the Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola at Campus Martius in Rome, Italy. Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709), a Jesuit brother, painted the massive fresco which stretches the length of the ceiling.

The Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola at Campus Martius in Rome, Italy

Although the ceiling is flat, Pozzo’s painting creates the effect of a barrel vaulted ceiling.

“The Apotheosis of Saint Ignatius” by Andrea Pozzo, 1694

Detail from “The Apotheosis of Saint Ignatius” by Andrea Pozzo, 1694

Detail from “The Apotheosis of Saint Ignatius” by Andrea Pozzo, 1694

A whimsical type of architectural trompe l’oeil called “quodlibet” (whatever pleases) features life like paintings of everyday objects in real settings.

“Trompe l’oeil” by Johann Heinrich Fussli, 1750

“Trompe l’oeil” by Edward Collier, 1699

At Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, England, a violin and bow appear to be hanging on the back of a door.

Violin and Bow by Jan van der Vaart, 1723.

Modern examples of trompe l’oeil are found in the works of body painter Joanne Gair and sidewalk artist Julian Beever.

“Disappearing Model” by Joanne Gair

“Eiffel Tower Sand-Sculpture” by Julian Beever

These “tricks of the eye” have delighted people for centuries. Although the format and subject matter may change, the surprise effect continues to amuse…

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 04:03:00 PM
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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Venice Redentore 2009

Our summer buying trips are always fun – it is the one time of the year when we can travel with our kids, the weather’s beautiful, the food’s great and we get to reunite with many of our friends in Europe. But this summer was particularly memorable since we happened to be in Venice on the very weekend of the famous Redentore

Now I’ve been all over Italy on different trips, but never to Venice (Jean-Marc has traveled there on many occasions), so when the opportunity presented itself this summer through an invitation by one of our old friends and vintage Murano glass dealers, we thought, what the heck, let’s just go…

Leslie boarding flight Nice-Venice with Baboo Airlines (highly recommended!)

We hesitated at first – we only had 3 days and the thought of traipsing around Venice in the middle of July under sweltering heat was discouraging. Everyone had adamantly warned us in years past never to go to Venice in the summer – the crowds, the smells on the canals, the lines for the vaporetto…. I had visions of Venice sinking under the weight of a human quagmire of sweaty tourists… (shudder). However, the details surrounding this Redentore were just too irresistible, plus we had lots of shopping for vintage Murano glass to do! So off we went.

Le Grand Canal.

We were not disappointed. Not only do I think Venice is the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited, but the Redentore was by far the biggest party I have ever experienced in my life – all I can say is WOW! Yes, it was a bit hot – only for one day though, and yes there were some crowds, but not that bad really. I never encountered any unpleasant smells and the Venetians are just plain wonderful – beautiful, enthusiastic, generous, proud of their city (as they should be) and they bend over backwards to guide you through the maze that is Venice. There is something truly magical about this place, like something wonderful and unexpected is about to happen at any moment!

Juliette, Jean-Marc and Leslie, arriving in Venice.

Juliette and Jean-Marc on the Grand Canal.

So what exactly is this Redentore ?
Il Redentore is a holiday in Venice that takes place each year on the third Saturday in July. It is an enduring celebration dating back to the 16th century that first started in thanks for the end of the plague in 1577. It is also one of the biggest festivals of the western world (why hadn’t I heard of it?), and it is the only day of the year when anyone residing outside of Venice can bring their boat into the San Marco basin. Hundreds of boats and yachts swarm the basin all day. They find a place to anchor, tie up to the boat next to them and prepare for the festivities (and the food!) and the famous show of fireworks (the “foghi“) that start at 11:00 pm and don’t stop – I kid you not – until midnight!

Tutto è bene!

It was absolutely amazing. First of all, let me just say, that the Venetians know how to throw a party! The food alone is a feast for the eyes (and tastebuds) and it keeps coming and coming for hours! (Remember this is on the water – prepared and transported by the party-goers ahead of time). We were treated to all sorts of Venetian delicacies such as sardines in saor, seafood rice salad, pizza, porchetta sandwiches, pasta with pesto, octopus salad, Sicilian tomato sandwiches, not to mention a myriad of cheeses and desserts – all of course, washed down with a never-ending flow of Prosecco.


Then the party really started – tables and chairs pushed aside for a make shift dance floor, music blasting, boaters climbing into their neighbors’ boats… three generations of men, women, and children living it up under a heavenly blanket of pink and blue skies, seagulls soaring, crowds cheering from the packed streets of the Piazza San Marco… It was crazy yet so civilized and cordial all evening. Then the fireworks started and everyone kicked back into a comfortable position to watch the magic of it all. Spectacular!

I regret I didn’t film this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle, I was too enthralled to run down to the cabin and fetch my video camera. However, there are some pretty good videos of it on YouTube.

The fireworks ended at midnight but it was a long time before we could actually clear out of there with all the boats maneuvering at the same time. The ride home was an adventure in itself because there are few lights to guide you and many shallow areas you have to avoid. We got home around 3:30 am and fell into bed with smiles across our faces. An unforgettable evening – Viva Italia!!

The next day we got down to business and went shopping! We’d already scouted out all three warehouses the day we arrived, so now we needed to make some decisions…

Jean-Marc thinks hard amid a multitude of choices…

Suffice it t say, we picked out lots of beautiful vintage Murano glass pieces that will be arriving in the next shipment in October. Take a peek at what’s coming…

We’ll be certain to keep you posted the minute they arrive! In the meantime, you can still check out the newest pieces to the gallery floor. Ciao, ciao!!

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 08:30:00 PM
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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Jean-Henri Riesener, Louis XVI’s Ebéniste Extraordinaire

by Lauren Stewart-Ebert

Cabinet, 1775.

The technique of marquetry was imported to France in the early 17th century from the Dutch. In Paris, makers of marqueted furniture belonged to their own guild, the “ébénistes”, separate from all other furniture craftsmen.

The most notable “ébéniste” was Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806). Born in Germany, he apprenticed under Jean-François Oeben and formally became “ébéniste ordinaire du roi” (ébéniste to the King of France) in July of 1774.

Riesener’s most famous piece is the “Bureau du Roi” (the King’s desk), a richly ornamented roll-top secretary begun under Louis XV and completed under Louis XVI. The desk features intricate marquetry and ormolu plaques, statuettes and scrolls.

The Bureau du Roi, 1769.

Detail of marquetry on the Bureau du Roi.

Riesener was also celebrated for creating mechanical fittings which allowed desk and table tops to be raised or lowered by a singled button.

Mechanical table, 1778.

A mechanical table, commissioned by Queen Marie Antoinette, features exquisite latticework marquetry enclosing a series of sunflowers. At each side is an ormolu plaque, decorated with rose and laurel branches, which hides a mechanism used to raise or lower the table top.

Detail of marquetry on mechanical table.

Secretary, 1783.

Bronze mounts attributed to Pierre Gouthière

After the French Revolution, Riesener was retained by the Directory and sent to Versailles to remove the “insignia of feudality” from furniture he had recently made. Royal symbols, such as the fleurs-de-lys, were replaced with plain panels.

Riesener always believed the monarchy would be reinstated and, to that end, he spent his remaining fortune buying back many of his own commissioned pieces. However, when he tried to resell these pieces he found tastes had changed and many of his patrons were either dead or had moved from the country.

Riesener died in Paris in 1806, in relative poverty and obscurity.

His work, however, lives on in many of the world’s greatest museums where onlookers continue to marvel at his beautiful creations.

Drop-front secretaire, 1783.
Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 07:04:00 PM
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