Sebastiano Lazzari – Trompe l’oeil

Oil painting on canvas

Sebastiano Lazzari (1730 - 1790 ca.)

Trompe l'oeil, 1789

Painting technique: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 142 x 157 cm


The work, in line with Sebastiano Lazzari’s artistic production, presents a dense and interesting symbolism. In the center of the scene there is a table on which a carpet is placed; since the 15th century this was a recurring element in the genres of portraiture and still life. The carpet evokes a distant and exotic world, accessible only to the most influential families.
It therefore asserts itself in the pictorial tradition as an emblem of power, passion and knowledge.

It also offers the painter the opportunity to indulge in the reproduction of pleasant decorative motifs of Levantine inspiration. Above the table are various elements: a letter, on which we can see a fly, a theme probably derived from the Flemish Vanitas, where it stood as a symbol of the fragility and transience of life. Next to the letter, which contains an informal and friendly exchange that could contain clues to the client, there are a box of biscuits and a tray with a coffee service. These are common household objects which, however, are curiously placed side by side with objects belonging to the scientific world: the compass, an armillary sphere and a globe.

The last element placed on the table is a clock where we find the dating of the work in Roman numerals (1789) and the author’s signature: “Sebastianus Lazari Veronensis / Pic. Sculp. Et Archit. Fecit “. To the left of the table a young man is portrayed, intent on showing the observer the objects on display. Moving on to the background of the scene we soon realize that it is a trompe l’oeil, more precisely of “fake axes”, an artifice of which Lazzari was a master, consisting in creating a perspective support plane on a background that simulates some wooden boards.

On this wall there are two female portraits, which we can suppose to be relatives of the young man, a protractor and an astronomical table. In the center, slightly higher than the other elements, there is a niche within which there are two shelves on which books are placed. We can note once again the presence of instruments related to astronomical and geographical research, placed between ordinary and apparently not very significant objects. It is an iconography that recurs in a systematic way in Lazzari’s works and which suggests the fusion between a daily and material dimension and a more sophisticated one, linked to the world of the intellect.

The combination of these objects alludes to meanings that unfortunately escape a modern observer. We find ourselves lacking the necessary elements to reveal the abstruse messages hidden in these compositions, defined precisely as “figurative rebus”. This, in our opinion, only increases the fascinating ambiguity of the work.

The work is presented in an original coeval frame, in walnut wood with rosewood inserts, and prepared for boiserie.


This painting is the work of the painter of Veronese origin Sebastiano Lazzari, probably born around 1730. Active in the second half of the eighteenth century in the Venetian mainland. Lazzari was also a sculptor and architect, as can be deduced from his signature (Sebastianus Lazari Veronensis / Pict. Sculp. Et Archit. Fecit).

There is little biographical information on the artist and no evidence of the aforementioned activities other than painting. Fortunately, the number of dated and signed works that has come down to us is substantial and allows us to properly appreciate this exceptional painter. Lazzari specialized and perfected in portraiture and still lifes, visibly undergoing the influence of Flemish art. He distinguished himself for the wise and original use of trompe l’oeil.

Already in use in classical and Renaissance painting, the trompe l’oeil experienced its maximum diffusion precisely between the 17th and 18th centuries, consequently to the affirmation and proliferation of still lifes and vanitas of Northern European inspiration. A thorough knowledge of drawing, the rules of perspective, the use of shadows and lighting effects are necessary to master this technique.

Sebastiano Lazzari elaborated a very personal and innovative style of trompe l’oeil, defined as “false plank”: the technique consists in creating simulating fir wood plank backgrounds that serve as an additional support surface in the scene. The success of this trick was such as to ensure him numerous commissions, even giving rise to numerous emulations. Possible comparisons with the engravings spread by the Remondini engravings in Bassano del Grappa suggest that they played a decisive role in the artist’s education.

Active as a modeler and designer at the Antonibon majolica and porcelain factory in Nove Bassano, his collaboration with the Vicenza company ceased in 1765, when he was accused of having stolen some molds from the factory to deliver them to the competition. The same year he moved to Venice, working for Geminiano Cozzi’s factory until the following year, when he moved to Bologna, where he was active for the Varion factory in Bologna, which however closed a few months later (both Cozzi and the Varions were those to whom Lazzari would have delivered the material of the Antonibon enterprise, as emerges from the data of the trial brought against him in ’65).

The last phase of Sebastiano Lazzari’s life is little known, he probably moved for a short period to Vicenza, where he produced both paintings of religious subjects (the Madonna and Child with Saints Simone Stock, Domenico and Vittore are for the parish church of Vighizzolo , signed and dated 1769), but above all a vast production of trompe l’oeil, in which foodstuffs (baskets of vegetables and fruit, flasks of wine) are often combined with musical instruments and mathematical instruments and scientific models.


– P. L. Fantelli/A. Rizzi, I “finti assi” del “pictor sculptor et architectus” Sebastiano Lazzari, in: “Ateneo Veneto”, 22, 1984, pp. 221-222, and fig. 27, 29;

– M. Acanfora, Sebastiano Lazzari: notizie e opere inedite, in “Verona illustrata”, 29, 2016, p. 84, nota 1.

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