, a pioneer of foreshortening (a perspectival technique of rendering an object so it appears to be projecting into space), took up Masaccio’s mantle. His Camera degli Sposi
(“the bride and groom chamber”) frescoes (1465–74), in Mantua’s Palazzo Ducale, seem consciously modeled on ancient Greco-Roman wall painting. The walls are covered with lifelike renderings of courtiers who inhabit the modeled architecture—which matches the decor of the real chamber—so it feels as if they are in the room. The crowning achievement of this set of works, however, is found on the ceiling: An elaborately painted oculus reveals a blue sky studded with fluffy clouds. Fat putti
, rendered in an extreme form of foreshortening called di sotto in su
(“from below, upward”), hang over the ledge, peering down at the spectators below.
It was in Northern Europe during this time, however, that naturalism was taken to stunning extremes. Artists from the Low Countries perfected painting in oils, a new medium that allowed them to simulate the real world on canvas with ever-greater precision and clarity. Flemish painters like
were among the first artists to incorporate illusionistic devices in their works. It became a common practice, for instance, to paint the outer panels of an altarpiece—which usually featured saints or the donors who commissioned the painting—in grisaille to create the illusion of sculptures set in niches in the wall.
’s The Annunciation Diptych
(1433–35) serves as a prominent example of this trend, the rendered figures appearing at once lifelike and as expertly carved stone sculptures.
Yet it is the portrait that most defines the
. In this genre, artists could best display their abilities to capture the essence of an individual—and offer a variety of visual tricks.
’s Portrait of a Carthusian
(1446) places the finely rendered monk in a warmly illuminated red chamber, a departure from his predecessor Van Eyck’s flat backgrounds. Perhaps in reference to Giotto, Christus here amplifies the verisimilitude of the scene by including a fly on the painted frame, which, in turn, bears the inscription: “Petrus Christus made me in the year 1446.”