Pliny the Elder tells in his Natural History, that the painters Zeuxis and Parrasio -the fifth century BC- discussed which of the two painted with the most realism. To prove it, each one proposed a work. That of Zeuxis was a boy with a basket of grapes; some birds and flies, confused, approached to peck them and all assumed that Zeuxis won.

But then Parrasio said:

-In agreement; now, remove the canvas that covers my work.

And when Zeuxis wanted to do it, he could not, because the cloth was painted and as he had believed it to be real, he considered himself defeated by the perfection of his opponent.

This text extracted (and I hope well translated) from here, describes a recurrent pictorial element in the old painting and one resulting: the Trompe-l'œil and the Muscae Depictae respectively. Both have appeared and continue appearing on several occasions in painting.


(French for "deceive the eye", pronounced [tʁɔp lœj]) is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions. Forced perspective is a comparable illusion in architecture. (Wikipedia)

enter image description here

Escaping Criticism by Pere Borrell del Caso, 1874

It is very easy to find Trompe-l'œil examples that correspond in Graphic Design, only seeing some figure-ground effect or what is usually called double reading in graphics and double exposure in images, or simply the design of an element made with another of different typology.


U&Lc Magazin

Muscae Depictae

When Giotto was still beginning to learn (painting) with Cimabue, one day he painted a fly on the nose of a portrait created by the teacher; a fly so natural, that when Cimabue returned to continue his work, several times he tried to frighten it with his hand, thinking it was real, until he noticed his mistake.

Whether as a joke or an effect, the fly appears several times in painting as an object of distraction, decoration or signature.


Petrus Christus, Portrait of a Carthusian, 1446


enter image description here

Knowing that it exists in painting, there are also personalized elements that are unrelated to those represented in sculpture, architecture and certainly in product design. But, it was impossible for me to find any simple Muscae Depictae example among so many graphic design products: corporate image, packaging, web design, publishing, posters ....

A long time ago, while working for a gaming company, after the release of a product to the market, I told the boss that I had put my name - very small - in a corner of one of the screens. Of course it was a joke, but he didn't think so and I had to listen an hour of business moral lessons. This was my own failed Muscae Depictae.

I would like to have at least one example of Muscae Depictae in Graphic Design. Does anyone know any? I could define it as an object that having no any relation with the design appears in some part of it.

I add a simple quiz, this link has a picture of an entrance to the Roman ruins of Empúries, Costa Brava. Where's the Muscae Depictae?

I didn't find the right tags for this question

  • 1
    I would say that the now common "easter eggs" on the movies are examples of it. Probably some movie posters have it.
    – Rafael
    Oct 16, 2018 at 20:33
  • @Rafael I just know the "easter eggs" of Illustrator (the eyes following the mouse), QuarkXpress (the killer robot) and Indesign (the fancy strokes).
    – user120647
    Oct 16, 2018 at 20:38
  • 2
    A very long question but not much content to it. I think it'd be better edited down to just the important parts. Oct 16, 2018 at 21:00
  • Not sure if this answers it, but.. I've seen an apple on the back of electronic stuff, phones, tablets, always looked like Muscae Depictae to me. Lots of people seem to appreciate it, but I could never figure out why :)
    – Lucian
    Oct 16, 2018 at 21:23
  • 1
    I'm reminded of the Yorkshire furniture make Robert (Mouseman) Thompson, who carved a little mouse on nearly all his pieces of furniture. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Thompson_(designer)
    – Billy Kerr
    Oct 16, 2018 at 21:28

3 Answers 3


Perhaps it is rare in graphic design because graphic design itself is often a distraction, and it would be considered counterproductive to build a distraction into the distraction. However, the most common recurring instance of this that I can think of would be the Droste effect, where the entire image is contained and repeated within itself. This effect often has nothing to do with the message of the advertisement itself, but is there simply as an amusing distraction. enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here


I'm not sure if this counts, but there's a perfume bottle "Message d'Amour des Dauphins" with a picture by Sandro Del-Prete. It depicts a love scene, but if you look at it differently, it displays 9 dolphins (hence the perfume's name). Here is a related question on our sister site Skeptics Stack Exchange.

The picture itself is slightly NSFW, so I put it behind a spoiler:

  • Nice, a clear Trompe-l'œil example.
    – user120647
    Oct 17, 2018 at 8:13

In English these are called "easter eggs" (because an Easter holiday tradition is to find eggs that are hidden).

They are found in graphic design software, car design, logos, websites, and many other things.

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