What is Trompe l'oeil?

An Artist's Trickery

Pink house in France with trompe l'oeil shuttered windows
Pink house in France with trompe l'oeil shuttered windows. Photo by Ruth Tomlinson/Robert Harding/Robert Harding World Imagery/Getty Images

French for "fool the eye," trompe l'oeil is decorative painting that creates the illusion of reality.

When used in architecture, trompe l'oeil becomes an important part of the building design. Wall surfaces, ceilings, domes, and other parts of the building are decorated with murals or designs that create the effect of architectural features such as windows, columns, stonework, and ornaments.

Trompe l'oeil paintings may also include clouds, trees, angels, or scenes from nature.

The skillful use of perspective adds to the realistic appearance of trompe l'oeil paintings.

The Radical Michelangelo used the technique on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The Renaissance master created fake architectural detail and sculpture-like images by using trompe l'oeil.

Pronunciation: trump-LOY

Also Known As: Trompe l'oeil is a form of Faux (or, False) Finish, and the terms are often used interchangeably.


  • Trompe l'oeil painting on Portofino houses in Italy
  • Trompe l'oeil in the Vatican Museums in Italy
  • Trompe l'oeil on Scotland's Italian Chapel