The 16th century Palazzo Spada is home to a spectacular example of forced perspective, the creation of that genius of Baroque architecture, Francesco Borromini (1599-1667).
Forced perspective is a technique which employs optical illusion to make an object appear farther away, closer, larger or smaller than it actually is.
One of the most famous examples of forced perspective was created in 1653 for Cardinal Bernardino Spada. Borromini designed a barrel-vaulted colonnade for the cardinal that looks much longer than it is (9 metres/30 feet). He achieved this illusion by making the two sides of the colonnade converge and by reducing the height of the columns as they recede.
The wall at the end of the colonnade was originally painted with an image of a forest. However, in the mid 19th century, Prince Clemente Spada added the statue of the god Mars, which appears much larger than it actually is (60 cm/2 feet).
Borromini's wonderful architectural device is not only an amusing illusion, it also carries a moral message: the greatness of the things of the world is also just an illusion.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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