Wallerant Vaillant - A board with letters, penknife and quill behind red ribbons

by Claire Deuticke


This image shows a landscape wooden board. The individual structures of the light wood can be seen in great detail. Red ribbons are stretched across the board and attached to the wood with a nail on the sides and in the middle. They serve as holders for the folded letters written in dark ink. Some of the letters are signed and sealed by a red wax seal. Besides them, a white pen and a wooden letter opener also decorate the wooden board. They are also held by the red ribbons. The number 1658, presumably expressing the year of creation, adorns the upper part of the wooden board in a chalk-like, odd script. 

Particularly impressive is the realistic rendering of the objects depicted. The detailed rendering of the wood makes the work seem almost real.

This very representational, almost illusion-like representation of objects is a typical characteristic of the genre of so-called trompe-l'oeil painting. The term comes from the French and means something like "deceived eye".


Works of tromp-l'oeil are considered a special type of still life and experienced a particular heyday in the 17th century - a century marked by new discoveries, philosophical zeal and new epistemologies. Many of the great questions of the 17th century deal with vision and perception. The eye is always at the center here. The quest to understand nature and the search for the "true" had an impact on the visual arts. Through a technically almost perfect way of painting, the artists tried to deceive the human eye. The distinction between reality and image was supposed to be difficult and thus mentally challenging, encouraging the viewer to reflect on reality.


Certain characteristics distinguish the works of trompe-l'oeil from the usual still lifes of the time. These include the depiction of naturalistic dimensions, a limited space, and the absence of a horizon. Mostly everyday objects were depicted. Particularly popular were attached to a wooden board or letters or objects of hunting. To make the illusion even more convincing, red ribbons or wax seals were often used to create the effect.


Access to art as well as the popular motifs of hunting and even reading and writing were no longer reserved exclusively for the nobility. The depiction of everyday objects therefore reached a broad mass and made them accessible to the middle classes. Due to their illusionary nature, works of trompe-l'oeil often appear amusing or even decorative - the true meaning only becomes clear upon closer inspection.


Wallerant Vaillant - A board with letters, penknife and quill behind red ribbons

Oil on paper mounted on canvas, 1658, 40.5 x 51.5 cm, Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden

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