Homage To Cincinnatus

Focal Point

Jun 13, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Sean Hughes

Have you have ever wondered what exactly that Roman-looking, Pantheon-esque temple on the corner of Central Parkway and Vine is? Ever tried to climb the double staircase to get a better look at the near-nude sculpture?

If your answer is yes, don't feel foolish — that's the whole point of Richard Haas' enormous illusory mural, HOMAGE TO CINCINNATUS. The work has been a part of the downtown cityscape since 1983, when, in honor of its 100th anniversary, the Kroger Company commissioned Haas to execute the mural on the Brotherhood Building.

The focal point of this work is the faux sculpture of Cincinnatus himself, without whom we would still be citizens of Losantiville.

Indeed, he appears to possess near-deity status as the central figure in a temple-like structure, sacrificial fire blazing. Cincinnatus, our city's namesake, served a brief stint as Roman dictator in the first century B.C. He left his farm and his family to defend the city against Aequi, a neighboring town that threatened invasion. Cincinnatus completed his errand and returned to his farm. His fame is based not only on military success but also on his lack of ambition — a trait looked down upon in ancient Rome.

In fancy terms, Hass' mural's intentionally misleading style is called a trompe l'oeil — French for "trick of the eye." Haas employs this technique to imbue the work with an almost tangible three-dimensionality and a sense of realism, which becomes disorienting upon the realization that the surface is actually flat.

To highlight Hass' masterful execution of technique, consider the following questions the next time you find yourself face-to-face with the mural. Can you tell which windows are real and which are painted? Study the fountain at the base — which rectangular entrance to the fictive underbelly of the fountain is an actual door and which is painted? The one aspect that always fooled me as a child are the shadows on the staircase and in the temple dome area. They just look so real. I admit to having been a pretty gullible kid, but I know I'm not alone here. It's a fine piece of trickery.

FOCAL POINT turns a critical lens on a singular work of art. Through Focal Point we slow down, reflect on one work and provide a longer look.