Trompe l’oeil is French for fools the eye. It first appeared in the Philippines in San Agustin church in Intramuros where the ceilings and walls are decorated with it. At first, one would think that these are carved decorations, a perfect play of light and shadows until upon close scrutiny, the three dimensional effect, are infact just painted on the ceiling.
It was the rage in Victorian Europe during the 19th century and in keeping up with the times, the Augustinians, immediately set up a meeting with the scenographers Giovanni Alberoni and Cesare Dibella when they arrived in Manila. (Scenographers are artists who painted backdrops for operas).
For the sum of 6,000 pesos and later an additional 2,000 pesos to speed up the job, the duo painted for around 15 months from 1875 – 1876. Religious symbols in the Old and New testaments, pillars, angels, animals, floral motifs and rosettes decorate.
The trompe l’oeil paintings were such a hit in Manila that other churches copied the style, to cite, Batangas City and Apalit in Pampanga.