Anamorphosis is derived from the Greek word meaning ‘transform’. It’s a perspective technique, which means that it deceives the eye. Anamorphic art creates a distorted image when you look at the artwork from a regular viewpoint but if viewed from a particular angle the image appears normal.
“A distorted or monstrous projection or representation of an image on a plane or curved surface, which, when viewed from a certain point, or as reflected from a curved mirror or through a polyhedron, appears regular and in proportion; a deformation of an image.”– Webster’s 1913 Dictionary
The first example of Anamorphic Art is titled ‘Leonardo’s Eye’ and appears in Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Codex Atlanticus’ (1483-1518).
The two main types of Anamorphic illusions are perspective (oblique) and mirror (catoptric) but illusions can be formed by distorted lenses, paint and canvas and even rooms.
Here are just a few exmapels of Anamorphic Art that will blow your mind.
ANAMORPHIC CYLINDRICAL MIRROR
A cylindrical mirror is placed next to a flat, distorted image. When the viewer looks at the image reflected in the mirror, it no longer appears distorted. Using laws of angles, the anamorphic technique was created in China during the Ming Dynasty (mid-14th to mid-15th century).
Salvador Dalí practised a lot with Anamorphic art and his most popular cylindrical mirror creation was Le Crane (The Skull), in 1972.
Andrea Pozzo used the combination of mural painting and anamorphism to create his masterpiece on the dome and vault of the Church of Sant’Ignazio between 1685-1694. The illusory perspective depicts the Apotheosis of Saint Ignatius. As the observer looks towards the ceiling from a specific place (the nave) in the church, there is the illusion that they are looking up at a dome. This was because neighbouring monks complained that a real dome would block the light and so Pozzo was commissioned to create a dome-like image from inside the building.
Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors (1533), is arguably the most famous piece of Anamorphic Art. The piece depicts two wealthy men surrounded by objects that symbolise an empire – globes, astronomical instruments, etc. The painting also depicts what appears to be an unusual, grey/white smudge on the carpet the two men are standing on. It’s only when the viewer moves closer to the painting and stands to one side that the smudge is revealed to be a human skull.
The purpose of the painting is that it is to be viewed twice and at two different angles. The skull marks as a reminder to all humans that, no matter their size or status, we all have the same ending. The painting is created to hang over a stairwell, so as viewers pass under it, the skull is revealed to them.
Anamorphic art expands further than a flat surface. Invented by Adelbert Ames, Jr, the Ames Room (1946) is viewed through a peephole where a room, which appears normal, can be seen. Applying the rules of anamorphosis, the Ames Room is, in fact, constructed of irregular trapezoids.
The Ames Room is regularly re-created in art and is commonly used in cinema to create a desired special effect. This is because Ames Rooms form a distorted perspective of people and objects, making them appear bigger or smaller than they really are.
Watch this video of Leon Kerr creating an Ames Room.
ANAMORPHIC PAPER CUTS
This style is associated with Pop Art. The process involves slicing an image into strips and reassembling it to create the desired anamorphic effect. Dutch artist Gerke Rienks is famous for his Anamorphic Paper Cuts style that he applies to his work. His subject-of-choice tends to be famous people such as Amy Winehouse, Johnny Cash or Madonna.