Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 3 (April-June 1983) p. 5.


Graphics file for this page
Viewer's View:

Lookine at Pictures

Gulam mohammed Sheikh

OST OPTICAL paintings are windows into walls or magical mirrors. Ancient Romans in fact used to have false windows | and doors painted with views of the outside world - in their , private villas1 (if only to fool gullible 'foreigners' with enchanted visions of paint!). The framed picture eventually perpetuated the legacy of the windowed vision. The Romans had also boasted of painted fruits that attracted bees to sit upon them : the Renaissance completed that myth. Every aspect of the world of appearances v^as arrested with utmost fidelity by means of the newly invented technique of oil. Illusionism became synonymous with realism.2

Illusionism changed the medieval European worldview as it intervened between the spirit of painting and the viewer. Now, the viewer was never left alone as he was in a non-illusionistic vision which allowed him to choose his own pictorial itinerary. The shadow of the artist hovered over every illusionistic picture like a ghost, asserting that the painting was his - and no one else's - a view taken from a particular point of time and space. In every viewing the viewer found himself in the company of the painter as he tried to adjust his eye with that of the painter.

Few paintings are more hauntingly illusionistic than Diego Velazquez' famous Las Meninas - the "Maids of Honour' - painted in A.D. 1656, four years before the artist's death. The large canvas (over ten ft in height) is exhibited in the Prado in a special room. A spot at some


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