Baudrillard, Death, and The Trompe l’Oeil

Notes from Baudrillard, Jean. “The Trompe-l’Oeil.” In Norman Bryson ed., Calligram: Essays in New Art History from France, 53-62. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Baudrillard mentions the sense of loss and death apparent in trompe l’oeil painting.

p. 56-57

“As the physical impulse to seize things, itself than suspended and thus become metaphysical, the tactile hallucination is not that of objects but of death. […] every composition in trompe l’oeil contributes to the effect of loss, a sense of losing hold on the real through the very excess of its appearances. In trompe l’oeil objects are too much like the things they are: this close resemblance is like a second state, and their true relief, through this allegorical resemblance, through the diagonal light, is that of death.”

p. 57

“Here death is what is most at stake, the very thing to which one acceeds in the reversal of the perspectival system of representation. Everything makes its contribution: the opacity of the objects, their banality, the flat field without depth (the veins of the wood are like stagnant water, soft to the touch like a natural death), but above all the light, this mysterious light which has no source and whose oblique incidence no longer has anything in common with reality.”

Baudrillard’s comparison of wood grain and stagnant water brings to mind the seascapes of Sugimoto. They are representations of a specific location but they are also eerily unreal and allude to the beginning of life in a much more general way. Gysbrechts’s Back of a Canvas has the number 36 on it – perhaps to denote it was the 36th painting in a series but “in the context of the history of art, the number of this painting should not have been ’36’ but ‘0’.” (See Stoichita, Victor I. The Self-Aware Image: An Insight into Early Modern Meta-Painting. Trans. Anne-Marie Glasheen. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. pages 276-278.) Stoichita also mentions death: “The nihil negativum of life is the representation of death; the negative nothing of discourse is silence. And we might add: The negative nothing of the image is the image of the absence of image. To discourse about (or paint) ‘Nothing’ – that is an art.”


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