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“The Camera Degli Sposi” – an Artwort by Andrea Mantegna

The Camera degli Sposi (1465-1474) by Andrea Mantegna is a prime model of an artwork that attempts to defeat spatial constrictions through an illusion of depth. The work is an example of trompe-l’oeil painting, which employs realistic imagery to create optical illusions of continuing space on an architectural surface. Camera degli Sposi translates to the room of the bride and groom. This would have been the place where newlyweds would have consummated their marriage within the Ducal Palace of Mantua, Italy (Web Gallery of Art, 2017, A). It is likely to have been the first time a couple would have experienced this kind of privacy. This is significant due to the ideas surrounding privacy and division in architecture, and the resultant spatial limitations that Schmarsow defends. The room could easily be described as a“sculptural image” due to the extreme emphasis on pictorial imagery among the three-dimensional architectural formation.

Architecture and painting have been exquisitely combined here to create an illusionistic surface, reminiscent of the relationship between the two art forms. This connection is emphasised through the rib-like curves and sculptural busts protruding from the flat, marble-like texture that is created by the paint and tactically applied onto the surface of the ceiling. The wall paintings do not display as much of the trompe-l’oeil technique compared to that of the ceiling, reflecting the significance of division, enclosure and privacy that the couple would have desired. However, the room is only 8.1 metres square, and the wall painting still allows us to feel as though it is far more spacious (Web Gallery of Art, 2017, B). A modern analogy of these ideas can be found in the renowned BBC series Doctor Who. Throughout the science fiction programme, the Doctor’s TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) appears from the outside as a small police telephone box. However, it is far larger on the inside than it looks externally.

In Mantegna’s work, the illusion of the open sky painted in the centre of the ceiling would have encouraged the couple to imagine the“infinity and immeasurability” of space. The ideas portrayed in the creation of the TARDIS also explore this through its large three-dimensional interior and ability to travel through infinite space. However, the particular imagery of the sky in the Camera degli Sposi blurs the boundaries between interior and exterior space through its imagery. It is this artistic illusion of depth that removes the disadvantage of any spatial limitations or claustrophobia without the privacy of the room being compromised. The“picture of infinity” (Boulle in Neumeyer, 1999, p. 245) is made even more effective through the spherical structure of the ceiling. The point of division between the walls and ceiling of the room does not exist, allowing the illusion of the painting to perceptually extend the space further (Neumeyer, 1999). Schmarsow’s theory has been put into practice here.

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