Artists' tricks brought to life at exhibition in Florence

Issue date: 09 October 2009

'Art and Illusions, Masterpieces of trompe l'oeil from antiquity until the present' Experts from the University of the West of England (UWE) and the University of Bristol (UoB) are helping to bring to life some of the Trompe l'oeil (tricks of the eye) effects used by artists at an exhibition in Florence, Italy. The exhibition 'Art and Illusions, Masterpieces of trompe l'oeil from antiquity until the present' will be held from 16 October until 24 January 2010 at the Palazzo Strozzi.

Dr Priscilla Heard from UWE and Emeritus Professor Richard Gregory from UoB are well known as the founders of the Exploratory Hands-On Science Centre, the influence and inspiration for At Bristol.

Dr Heard explains, “We will be curating a hands on gallery for children to show some of the cues to depth. The gallery will include a range of scientific hands on experiments to explain how the eye-brain can be tricked with trompe l-oeil and designed to encourage visitors to probe some of the phenomena of seeing.”

The room will be given over entirely to installations and workstations that will allow visitors to explore the ways in which the brain interprets reality, and how it can be deceived. Upon entering the interactive space, the first thing to meet the visitor's eye will be an Ames Room, which when viewed through the observation hole looks like a normal room, however one end is much bigger and further away than the other. When visitors are observed to walk across the room they appear to shrink or expand.

In the area devoted to scientific experiments, several workstations will allow the visitor to observe the effect of parallax movement, and of stereoscopic vision caused by the subtle difference in the images that hit the right and left eyes. Also the visitor can explore how brightness affects distance as seen, brighter usually indicates objects are nearer. Also, a camera obscura will help visitors to grasp how objects in the world can be represented in a flat image as on the back of the eye, and how the brain has to use cues and clues from a flat image to perceive the richness of real objects.

The hands on gallery will also include fun holograms, devised by Paula Dawson, an Australian artist. Visitors will also be able to trace real objects onto a 'Leonardo's window.' There will be a hollow head illusion showing how probabilities affect perception.

Dr Heard said, “It is really exciting to take part in such a wonderful event. The location and the art on show are simply amazing. We hope to surprise and illuminate by demonstrating the close interaction between scientific findings and how artists have cleverly integrated some of these ideas to create works of art that show how illusions are useful tools for investigating perception.”

The main art exhibition compares ancient Greco-Roman mosaics and frescoes with European masterpieces of the 1300s up to today. The exhibition features two hundred works from Italian and international museums and private collections.

Telling the intriguing and spectacular history of trompe-l'oeil. The centrepiece is Escaping Criticism painted by Pere Borrell del Caso 1874. This is compared with photographs of similar poses of real people – are painters or the camera more effective?

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