oil painting » Painting techniques » Anamorphism


An anamorphism is a distorted projection or perspective; especially an image distorted in such a way that it becomes visible only when viewed in a special manner.

Leonardo's Eye Leonardo da Vinci, ca 1485 is the earliest known example of an anamorphosis.

An anamorphic painting, a composition that can only be viewed with a special mirror that restores the deformed image. This example was originally attributed to Van de Velde, a Dutch artist, but its origins are now uncertain. Painted on a wooden panel, the painting is unrecognisable until a cylindrical mirror is placed at its centre over a circular portrait of a lady. Viewed from above, a sailing ship without rigging will suddenly heave in sight. Paintings of this type were quite popular during the 18th century, especially anamorphic portraits that concealed the identity of the sitter from prying eyes.

In other anamorphisms, a anamorphoscope (a conical or cylindrical mirror) is placed on the drawing or painting to transform a flat distorted image into a three dimentional picture that can be viewed from many angles. Anamorphoscopes were invented in China and brought to Italy in the 16th century, about the time Renaissance artists like Leonardo daVinci were mastering 3-D and discovering slant anamorphosis.

Anamorphism painting Anamorphism painting-1 Anamorphism swimming Street painting

During the seventeenth century, Baroque murals often used this style to combine actual architectural elements with an illusion. When standing in front of the art work in a specific spot, the architecture blends with the decorative painting. Hans Holbein the Younger is well known for incorporating this type of anamorphic trick in his masterpieces.

The dome and vault of the Church of St. Ignazio, painted by Andrea Pozzo, represented the pinnacle of illusion. Due to complaints of blocked light by neighboring monks, Pozzo was commisioned to paint the inside of a dome instead of constructing one. However, because it was flat, there was only one spot where the illusion was perfect and the dome looked real.

Another example is the sidewalk chalk paintings of Kurt Wenner and Julian Beever where the chalk painting, the pavement and the architectural surroundings all become part of an illusion.