The art of deception

by Rebecca Bricker on August 24, 2014

Your eyes play tricks on you when you walk through the village of Camogli, on Italy’s Ligurian coast. The facades of the buildings are painted in trompe l’oeil style, creating the illusion of elaborate cornices and balustrades.

Weathered shutters. A basket of flowers and a cat sunning itself on a sill. Cut stonework. Even an iron grill on a window. All an illusion.








And just when you think you can tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not, the painter plays another trick on you — some of the real shutters are painted to look fake. The only telltale clue is the slight shadow cast by a hinge.

When I was deciding on a cover for my new book, Not a True Story, I wanted to convey the blurred line between truth and fiction.










As I considered cover designs, I remembered my first visit to Camogli and the surreal experience of not believing my eyes as I walked around the village. The Ligurian tradition of trompe l’oeil exterior decoration dates back to the Renaissance. Painting ornamentation on facades was far cheaper than constructing actual pediments and pilasters or commissioning stone carvers and sculptors. La bella figura — presenting “a beautiful figure” — is an important part of Italian culture. Beauty, even if it’s an illusion, is revered here.







(Local boy Christopher Columbus, depicted above, was born in Genoa, just up the coast.)


The beauty and realism of the embellishments improve with time as they fade and weather in the Mediterranean sunlight…



The illusion created by the artist’s sleight of hand has maximum effect in the bright light of day and the magical moments of twilight. I often squint and blink to re-focus my eyes. Sometimes I zoom in with my camera lens and then enlarge the image, just to be sure. (Test your vision: scroll over each photo to see what’s fake.)

Some of the artistry is so convincing that you have to actually touch the wall to know for sure. Outside my hotel, I put the brochure against the wall to prove my point. Surreal, yes?

It was outside that hotel that I found the cover image for my book.

But even with all the photos I took of that facade, I stopped short when I saw it again on a recent visit. I waited to see the towels on the line blow in the breeze because I just couldn’t trust my eyes…



Sarah McKee August 24, 2014 at 8:48 pm

Dear Becky,

Thank you so much for letting us once again see your beloved Italy through your eyes!

Though what, precisely, we/you are seeing might be another question.

muddygloves August 24, 2014 at 8:53 pm


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