Optical Illusions: What's wrong with this picture?

This painting by Flemish artist Jos de Mey (1928 - 2007) is titled Melancholy Tunes on a Flemish Winter's Day. What's wrong with this picture? Look at it carefully and see if you can tell what optical illusion is taking place here.


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Look at the brick wall above the man's head: it looks flat within the picture, as if the full width of the wall is a specific and equal distance away from the viewer. The arches look that way too, until one looks at the tops of the columns that connect with the arches. Then we begin to see some perspective, as the far left column is clearly in the foreground, while the other two columns appear to be further back ... but how could that be if the top brick wall appears flat and not receding?

Throughout his art, Jos de Mey is well known for his meticulously realistic depictions of impossible structures, and that's exactly what this brick wall with columns is - an impossible structure. The artist has succeeded in painting an optical illusion, completely distorting our sense of how this architectural structure truly fits within this picture!

The tree also presents an optical impossibility: look at the branches at the top left: they are in front of the brick wall, which means they must be in front of the far left column. But the left column appears closer to us than the branches, and is clearly closer to us than the trunk of the tree.

How about the right column ... is it just me, or does it appear to be closer to us than the center column, but still behind the left column? If so, that would put the columns in a triangular position in relation to each other, yet the brick wall above them appears flat.

Here's one more question to consider: the light source. At first glance, it appears to be accurate: the sunlight appears to be shining from the top left, with the shadows on the right side of each element of the structure. But if the sun is shining down on this structure, casting the shadow below the top block of each column, then how is it that the right underside of the curved arch is lit up? Look at the right edge of the right arch, and the shadows on the far right column. How is the sun shining "up" to light up the right side of the arch, but shining "down" to cast the shadow under the top block of the column? Should the whole bottom side of the arch be in shadow?

One last observation: are there any art history students here reading this now? Can you tell us one more thing that's wrong with this picture? This figure, the musician, is not an original character created by Jos de Mey, he's been lifted from another art work.

optical illusion painting titled Melancholy Tunes on A Winter Day by Jos de Mey

The painting below left is titled The Peasant Dance from 1568 and was painted by Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel. See how Jos de Mey has selected this one character (highlighted at right to show you the one figure chosen) and pulled him out of Bruegel's scene and placed him into this new, optical illusion painting?


painting by Pieter Bruegel titled The Peasant Dance from c. 1568

We are unable to determine exactly why Jos de Mey used Bruegel's character in this painting - it seems the use of other artists' figures was a common practice for de Mey, as he also used characters painted by Rene Magritte and M. C. Escher in addition to Bruegel. The only somewhat obvious connection for de Mey to utilize Bruegel's art might be that de Mey, as a Flemish artist of the 20th century, was paying homage to an earlier Flemish artist, Bruegel, from the 16th century.



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