The Cartellino

Boilly - Trompe l'œil au crucifix en ivoire et en bois

Boilly – Trompe l’œil au crucifix en ivoire et en bois

Notes from Milman, Miriam. The Illusions of Reality: Trompe L’oeil Painting. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1983.

p. 12

“At about the same period [mid 1400s-1500s] the cartellino makes its appearance – a small slip of paper skilfully folded, with its edges turned down and bearing the painter’s signature or other inscriptions. As a luminous surface, its whiteness immediately visible, the cartellino stands out from the picture and enters unequivocally the world of the spectator. It also brings a direct message from the artist to the public. The signature, date or title inscribed on the cartellino go to establish it as a real object, while thrusting the picture content back into the world of illusion. The folded or crumbled scrap of paper standing out so effectively from the plane surface of the painted picture later became a stock device of trompe-loeil painting.”

The cartellino reminds me of the labels found on the back of the canvas indicating ownership and exhibition history. It also makes me wonder when artists / owners started attaching labels to the backs of works of art.


First example of the cartellino. Madonna by Lippi, 1437

From German Wikipedia: “das erste Cartellino in dem Gemälde Tarquinia Madonna von Fra Filippo Lippi aus dem Jahr 1437. Die Verwendung von Cartellini nahm ab Mitte des 15. Jahrhunderts in der italienischen Malerei immer mehr zu, bis sie im ersten Viertel des 16. Jahrhunderts den Gipfel der Popularität erreichte.”


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