Or from Painterly Illusionism to Augmented Reality?

Theresa Uitz

PhD thesis: 2019- ongoing

Today, the Italian painter-architect Andrea Pozzo features in any overview of Baroque architecture. The reason for this lies not in his virtuosity as a painter, but rather in the explicit architectural character of his art. It is architectural because he intervenes in and alters the existing fabric of the building, but above all because his ceiling paintings, which are accurate in perspective when viewed from one angle, create a unique illusionistic effect designed to open the space to the (holy) sky. Through the medium of painting, the architectural wall surface is rendered transparent, dissolves, and allows a view through, behind and beyond it. 

This research focuses on this very painterly effect in conjunction with the architectural spaces that host these paintings and primarily asks how long such paintings were used to dissolve the wall surface and add fictive picture space to the built architecture? Factors such as the reinforcement of the wall through its painterly articulation, its mere use as a canvas, or its dissolution through deceiving the eye are observed. These paintings and their effects on the creation of architectural space are debated in archaeological, philosophical, optical-mathematical, art historical and architectural texts. The focus on the role of the wall surface, the feigned architectural elements, and the use of perspective and technology lead to the follow up question as to whether today’s representative technologies are indeed their modern successors? The research looks at the use of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality in architectural setups and how they may follow in the footsteps of the erstwhile painterly technologies that made early illusionistic effects possible. In positing and answering these questions, the research seeks to avoid commonly known historical themes and attempts to point at lesser-known examples using a combination of a historical-critical research approach and case studies, some of which grew into digital reconstructions. The earliest examples date back to 3000 BC in Mesopotamia, followed by ancient trompe l’oeil art in Europe, climaxing in the Baroque ages, up to digitally produced (e.g., 3d-modelled) trick art designed for illusionistic selfies shared on social media.

The latter part is based on current research in architecture, 3D scanning and reverse engineering/modelling methods in an attempt to clarify the often-ambiguous application of concepts like illusionism, trompe l’oeil, immersion, and perspectivism in the architectural discipline. It compares and contextualises these modern technologies and methods with and in relationship to those of earlier ages, e.g., projective techniques that once transferred the analogue sketches to the ceilings, and which are still required today to visualise the pixels of a digital image on the glasses of AR and VR goggles.

The research was exhibited at:
The IARC Show (Feb. 2020) https://www.uibk.ac.at/foko-architektur/events.html
Potentiale 3 (aut.architetkur und tirol (Oct. 2021- Feb. 2022)
https://aut.cc/ausstellungen/potenziale-3/digital-lab and https://www.exparch.at/2021/10/up-2/
Traits Exhibition (Dec. 2022) https://www.exparch.at/2023/02/traits-exhibition/.

Acknowledgements: The research was partly funded by the Early Stage Funding 2021, Univeristät Innsbruck. It has some overlaps with the research conducted at PDNB. All models were produced with the generous support of Michael Schwaiger and Modellbauwerkstätte der Fakultät für Architektur.