Even art experts were stumped.
When “The Ambassadors,” a 1533 portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger arrived at London’s National Gallery, it took a few years before anyone knew exactly what they were looking at.
Michael Treco explains: On the floor in between the two ambassadors in the portrait was something quite unusual. Eventually, the image was revealed to be a skull that became clear when seen at an oblique angle. The portrait then became one of the most famous examples of anamorphic art.
Turns out, they just needed to be told how to look it.
What is Anamorphic Art?
Anamorphosis is a type of distorted projection that can only be seen either through a certain angle or point or using a special viewing device. It is used in a variety of media, including sculpture, toys, painting, photography, and special effects.
Anamorphic art dates to the Renaissance, in the 1400s. Sometimes, anamorphic art can only be seen in a very specific way, such as through a peephole. Optical anamorphism can be usually seen while viewing something horizontally, catoptric anamorphism is viewed by looking down, while anoptric anamorphism is seen by looking up.
There are different types of anamorphic art, including mirror anamorphosis and perspective anamorphosis. Other forms use distorted lenses or optical transformations.
Which Artists Used Anamorphic Art?
Many early forms of anamorphosis reflected religious ideas and themes. Leonardo da Vinci regularly used anamorphic techniques to create scientific works. Five hundred years after da Vinci, Salvador Dali used anamorphic techniques extensively in his murals.
Anamorphic art is also used in décor, such as decorating a cup with a message or design that can only be seen using mirrors.
Following the Renaissance and through the 17th century anamorphic art took on a more fantastical bent and were more scientific curiosities. It fell out of favor as an art form until interest returned through the 19th century. It eventually inspired Surrealists such as Dali.
The concept is still used in the 21st century, particularly in street art which creates the illusion that there is a hole in the sidewalk or on the road. It’s also used to make buildings look grander or more whimsical than they are, providing an illusion of vast architectural swoops and untraditional shapes.
it is also now used in murals that make buildings or other items appear to have depth. Graffiti artists have displayed their anamorphic art in galleries as well, experimenting with unexpected perspectives and perceptions of reality.
It also has more practical uses. When you see a movie in a special IMAX theater, you’re seeing extreme anamorphosis at work. When you see writing at a store that can be seen correctly in a mirror, you’re seeing basic anamorphosis.
A Little Bit of Magic
Anamorphic art was originally scientific and artistic wonders. They were appreciated as scientific curiosities but also as inventive works that took advantage of clever symbolism and portrayed hidden messages.
Today, people admire the spirit and uniqueness of anamorphic art in the same way, but on a grander scale. In a world of gray buildings and busy concrete streets, anamorphic art brings magic to our everyday lives.