A look at the ‘X-ray’ illusion on historic Palazzo Farnese in Rome

French street artist captivates passers by optically with his trompe l’oeil masterpiece adorning the façade of the Palazzo Farnese, home to the French embassy in central Rome. Named Punto di Fuga (Vanishing Point), the installation offers passers-by a glimpse into the palace’s interior as it undergoes renovations, revealing elements such as the classic colonnade and vestibule designed by Renaissance architect Antonio da Sangallo.

This stunning X-ray artwork also showcases remnants of the palace’s past, including a monumental statue of Hercules that has long been removed. JR explained to Agence France-Presse, “the palace is not open to everyone… there are rooms and areas that can’t be seen. This is one way of opening up the building. It reveals [original] frescoes and arches that no longer exist.”

The installation cleverly disguises scaffolding across the front of the Palazzo, which is currently undergoing a €5.6 million, four-year restoration. As part of this extensive renovation, the French Embassy has launched an ambitious contemporary art program inspired by the historic venue, which has been leased by the French government since 1936.

Last month, French artist Olivier Grossetête unveiled a major public art piece as part of this initiative, suspending a 60-foot cardboard bridge over the River Tiber. Modeled after an incomplete project by Michelangelo, the bridge symbolically connects the Palazzo Farnese to the gardens of the Villa Farnesina on the opposite bank.

Despite its grandeur, the bridge proved to be more ephemeral than anticipated, as bad weather forced its dismantling on July 15, three days ahead of schedule. Christian Masset, France’s ambassador to Italy, expressed his enthusiasm for the contemporary art drive, stating to The New York Times, “We gave a big push. Because I think that the Farnese Bridge and this one [JR] are the two biggest projects so far of this kind, in Rome in this period.”

JR’s mesmerizing artwork follows another dramatic piece, La Ferita (The Wound), unveiled earlier this year on the façade of the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. This illusory 28-meter-tall crack appeared to split the gallery in half, sparking debate among Italian commentators on social media. One contributor noted that the Rome installation is “even more spectacular than the Strozzi piece.”