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Trompe-l'Oeil Stem of a Maltese Cross
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Joris Hoefnagel
Flemish, illumination 1591-1596
Flemish and Hungarian, illumination 1591-1596, script 1561-1562
6 9/16 x 4 7/8 in.
MS. 20, FOL. 37V

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On turning the page, the viewer sees the paint and ink of the preceding page through the parchment, creating a subdued image of the script, flower, ladybird, and mussel in reverse. But in the middle of this page, the stem from the flower, called a Maltese cross, which illusionistically pierced the other side of the page, here appears to rest above a narrow strip of the parchment. The shadow of this strip of parchment and the flower stem are the only elements that are painted on this side of the page. Through this defiant gesture, Joris Hoefnagel, the brilliantly inventive illuminator, continued his response to the work of master calligrapher Georg Bocskay from the previous page, dramatizing the ability of artists to create visual illusions.

Although sixteenth-century manuscripts frequently included fruit and flower borders and employed trompe-l'oeil devices, never before had the conceit of the pierced page been carried so far.