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This article is about anamorphosis in art. For other uses, see Anamorphosis (disambiguation).
Example of mirror anamorphosis

Anamorphosis is a distorted projection or perspective requiring the viewer to use special devices or occupy a specific vantage point to reconstitute the image. The word "anamorphosis" is derived from the Greek prefix ana‑, meaning back or again, and the word morphe, meaning shape or form.

Types of projection[edit]

There are two main types of anamorphosis: perspective (oblique) and mirror (catoptric).

Examples of perspectival anamorphosis date to the early Renaissance (fifteenth century). Examples of mirror anamorphosis were first seen in the late Renaissance (sixteenth century).

With mirror anamorphosis, a conical or cylindrical mirror is placed on the drawing or painting to transform a flat distorted image into a three-dimensional picture that can be viewed from many angles. The deformed image is painted on a plane surface surrounding the mirror. By looking uniquely into the mirror, the image appears undeformed. This process of anamorphosis makes it possible to diffuse caricatures, erotic and scatological scenes and scenes of sorcery for a confidential public.


Leonardo's Eye (Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1485) is the earliest known definitive example of perspective anamorphosis in modern times. The prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux may also possess this technique because the oblique angles of the cave would otherwise result in distorted figures from a viewer's perspective.

Hans Holbein the Younger is well known for incorporating this type of anamorphic trick. His painting The Ambassadors is the most famous example for anamorphosis, in which a distorted shape lies diagonally across the bottom of the frame. Viewing this from an acute angle transforms it into the plastic image of a skull. During the seventeenth century, Baroque trompe l'oeil murals often used this technique 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. The dome and vault of the Church of St. Ignazio in Rome, painted by Andrea Pozzo, represented the pinnacle of illusion. Due to neighbouring monks complaining about blocked light, Pozzo was commissioned to paint the ceiling to look like the inside of a dome, instead of building a real dome. As the ceiling is flat, there is only one spot where the illusion is perfect and a dome looks real.

Anamorphosis could be used to conceal images for privacy or personal safety. A secret portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie, held at the West Highland Museum, Scotland, is painted in a distorted manner on a tray and can only be recognised when a polished cylinder is placed in the correct position. To possess such an image would have been seen as treachery in the aftermath of the 1746 Battle of Culloden.[1]

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, anamorphic images had come to be used more as children's games than fine art. In the twentieth century some artists wanted to renew the technique of anamorphosis. Marcel Duchamp was interested in anamorphosis, and some of his installations are "visual paraphrases" of anamorphoses (See The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even/The Large Glass). Jan Dibbets conceptual works, the so-called "perspective corrections" are examples of "linear" anamorphoses. In the late twentieth century, mirror anamorphosis was revived as children's toys and games.

Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí used extreme foreshortening and anamorphism in his paintings and works, including a 3-dimensional anamorphic living-room installation with custom furniture that looks like the face of Mae West when viewed from a certain spot.[2]:156[3]:28

Andrea Pozzo's painted ceiling in the Church of St. Ignazio 
Holbein's The Ambassadors with a memento mori anamorph skull in the foreground 
Skull from Holbein's The Ambassadors seen at an angle to undistort it 
Anamorphic portrait of Edward VI by William Scrots 

Anamorphic effects in the work of contemporary artists[edit]

The Swedish artist Hans Hamngren produced and exhibited many examples of mirror anamorphosis in the 60s and 70s. Shigeo Fukuda, a Japanese artist, designed both types of anamorphosis in the 70s and 80s. Patrick Hughes (artist), Fujio Watanabe, William Kentridge, István Orosz, Felice Varini, Matthew Ngui, Kelly Houle, Nigel Williams[disambiguation needed], and Judy Grace are fine artists creating anamorphic images. Currently, Myrna Hoffman designs anamorphoses for children's interactive toys.

From 2006, artist Jonty Hurwitz[4] pioneered the area of anamorphic sculpture using mathematical techniques and 3D printing. His work rose to fame in early 2013 when it was blogged by art critic Christopher Jobson on his Webby Award-winning site Colossal.[5] Hurwitz's work went viral on the internet, receiving 30 million views online.[6] The Savoy Hotel went on to take on Hurwitz as artist in residence to produce an anamorphic for their iconic River Room where they opened their restaurant called Kaspars.[7]

The Dutch artist Leon Keer made an optical illusion painting with a life-size mirror cylinder during the 3-D street painting event FringeMK in 2010. [1]

Another form of anamorphic art is often called "Slant Art". Examples are 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. Art of this style can be produced by taking a photograph of an object or setting at a sharp angle, then putting a grid over the photograph, another, elongated grid on the footpath based on a specific perspective, and reproducing exactly the contents of one into the other, one square at a time.

In November, 2011, an article published on the website of the Smithsonian magazine questioned if an anamorphic garden work by French artist François Abélanet featured in front of Paris' city hall, the Hôtel de Ville entitled, "Qui croire?" [Eng: "Who to believe?"] was the, "World’s Greatest New Artwork?"[8] citing an online video of it.[9]

Practical uses[edit]

Cinemascope, Panavision, Technirama and other widescreen formats use anamorphosis to project a wider image from a narrower film frame.

The system of anamorphic projection can be seen quite commonly on text written at a very flat angle on roadways, such as "Bus Lane" or "Children Crossing", which is easily read by drivers who otherwise would have difficulty reading as the vehicle approaches the text; when the vehicle is nearly above the text, its true abnormally elongated shape can be seen. Similarly, in many sporting stadiums, especially in Rugby football in Australia, it is used to promote company brands which are painted onto the playing surface; from the television camera angle, the writing appear as signs standing vertically within the field of play.

On some 0.5 liter Sprite bottles in Europe, an extra "bar code" was present. When the bottle is tilted towards the mouth while drinking, the bar code resolves into writing due to the anamorphic effect.[citation needed]

Much writing on shop windows is in origin anamorphic, as it was written mirror-reversed on the inside of the window glass.

Impossible objects[edit]

In the twentieth century, artists began to play with perspective by drawing impossible objects. These objects included stairs that always go up or cubes where the back meets the front. Such works were popularized by artist M. C. Escher and mathematician Roger Penrose. Although referred to as impossible objects, such objects as the Necker Cube and the Penrose triangle can be built using anamorphosis. When viewed at a certain angle, such sculptures appear as the so-called impossible objects.

Popular culture[edit]

Since 1993, Myrna Hoffman’s company, OOZ & OZ, has been producing mirror anamorphosis art kits and activities for children. The image below is from Hoffman's "Morph-O-Scopes" Kit.[10] Hoffman's kits have earned more than two dozen national toy awards.[citation needed]

Anamorphic art toy by Myrna Hoffman

Rick Wakeman's 1976 album No Earthly Connection features front and back cover photographs that are mirror anamorphoses. The original vinyl release included a mirrored Mylar sheet which could be curled into a cylinder for viewing the images.[11]

In the 2007 detective film Anamorph, the plot line revolves around the solution of gruesome anamorphically distorted images.[citation needed]

The 2009 Video Game Batman: Arkham Asylum has a series of riddles posed by the classic Batman antagonist The Riddler, the solution of which is based on perspective anamorphosis.[12]

In 2013, Honda released a commercial which incorporated a series of illusions based on anamorphosis.[13]

Anamorphosis in modern music[edit]

Even though no musical anamorphoses -in the meaning of "a distorted projection which appears normal from a suitable point of view" [14]- have yet been widely known, we might find such anamorphoses if we consider that, at bottom, anamorphosis is a projection that can only be grasped under a particular (often unconventional) point of view, even if such a projection doesn't seem distorted (but different from the unconventional one) aside from this point of view.

The iconic song "Stairway to Heaven" in the album "Led Zeppelin IV" released on November 8, 1971 by the eponymous band was subject to virulent polemics as it was charged with blaspheming, notably in a 1982 television programme on the Trinity Broadcasting Network where it was affirmed that running the song backwards would deliver a subliminal message as follows : « Oh Here's for my sweet Satan ». Here is a good example of anamorphosis since a particular device is needed to reconstitute the alleged message, although it is commonly known that such a message was not intentional ; moreover hearing it may require to be influenced by the environment as mentioned below.

Another example of anamorphosis lies in the way the brain edits the information we receive. It is possible to understand the lyrics of a song another way if influenced by the environment : for instance, by reading a text phonetically close to the lyrics while listening to the song, one can hear the words of the text instead of the real lyrics of the song : A good illustration of such an anamorphosis (French version). The influences of the environment can be numerous : social influences (culture, prejudices), situations triggering strong emotions or a particular state of mind, habits, and so on.

If the reader is not convinced about the impact of habits and external (psychological) influence on our -conscious- representation of the world, let them compare their face in the mirror and on a photograph. Further than noticing that these two images differ out of sheer axial symmetry, they could detect details in their morphology diverging from one of these images to the other : e.g., the relief of a nose, or a disruption in the alignment of eyebrows, ears, eyes, and so on. A possible explanation for this eerie phenomenon relies on the way the brain could transfrom information and adapt it to a pattern (such a pattern could be the result of an average of all the structures the brain would have been in touch with, in our example human faces). Indeed, what we see in the mirror, unlike on a photograph, is an image we are accustomed to : our representation of us from a photograph appears different to us because it is a new point of view (the brain is not accustomed to), as if we were looking at someone else.


  1. ^ "Now you see me ...". West Highland Museum. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  2. ^ King, Elliott H. (guest curator) (2010). Salvador Dalí : the late work. David A. Brenneman, managing curator ; with contrib. by William Jeffet, Montse Aguer Teixidor, Hank Hine. Atlanta, Ga: High Museum of Art and Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300168280. 
  3. ^ Pitxot, Antoni; Montse Aguer Teixidor; photography, Jordi Puig; translation, Steve Cedar (2007). The Dalí Theatre-Museum. Sant Lluís, Menorca: Triangle Postals. ISBN 9788484782889. 
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Adams, Henry (Nov 29, 2011), Is a "Garden" the World’s Greatest New Artwork? 
  9. ^ Stevenson, Scott, Most Amazing World Illusion! - Magic World 
  10. ^ "Sports of All Sorts". Retrieved 14 January 2012. 
  11. ^ "Rick Wakeman official website". Retrieved 14 January 2012. 
  12. ^ "Batman FAQ". Retrieved 14 January 2012. 
  13. ^ "This Honda Ad Leaves Me a Little Flat". Retrieved 10 December 2013. 
  14. ^ "Anamorphis". Oxford Dictionaries. 

See also[edit]



  • Kirsti Andersen (1996) "The mathematical treatment of anamorphoses from Piero della Francesca to Niceron", pp 3 to 28 in History of Mathematics, J.W. Dauben, M. Folkerts, E. Knobloch & H. Wussing editors, ISBN 0-12-204055-4 MR 1388783.
  • Baltrusaitis, Jurgis: Anamorphoses ou Thaumaturgus opticus. Flammarion, Paris, 1984.
  • Behrens, R.R. (2009a). "Adelbert Ames II" entry in Camoupedia: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage. Dysart IA: Bobolink Books, pp. 25–26. ISBN 0-9713244-6-8.
  • Behrens, R.R. (2009b). "Ames Demonstrations in Perception" in E. Bruce Goldstein, ed., Encyclopedia of Perception. Sage Publications, pp. 41–44. ISBN 978-1-4129-4081-8.
  • Cole, Alison: Perspective. Dorling Kindersley Limited, London, 1992.
  • Collins, Daniel L.: Anamorphosis and the Eccentric Observer. Leonardo, Berkeley, 1992.
  • Damisch, Hubert: L’Origine de la perspective. Flammarion, Paris, 1987.
  • De Rosa, Agostino; D'Acunto, Giuseppe, La Vertigine dello Sguardo. Tre saggi sulla rappresentazione anamorfica (The Vertigo of Sight. Three Essays on the Anamorphic Representation). Cafoscarina Publishing, Venezia, 2002. ISBN 9788888613314
  • De Rosa, Agostino (Ed), Jean François Nicéron. Prospettiva, catottrica e magia artificiale (Jean François Nicéron. Perspective, catoptric and artificial magic), 2 Voll. with critic editions and translations of J. F. Nicéron's La Perspective curieuse and Thaumaturgus opticus. Marsilio, Venezia 2012.
  • Du Breuil, La Pere: La Perspective pratique. Paris, 1649.
  • Foister, Susan, Roz Ashok, Wyld Martin: Holbein’s Ambassadors. National Gallery Publications, London
  • Haddock, Nickolas: "Medievalism and Anamorphosis: Curious Perspectives on the Middle Ages," in Medievalism Now, ed. E.L. Risden, Karl Fugelso, and Richard Utz (special issue of The Year's Work in Medievalism, 28 [2013]).
  • Houle, Kelly: Portrait of Escher: Behind the Mirror. M.C. Escher's Legacy. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York, 2003.
  • Kircher, Athanasius: Ars Magna lucis et umbrae in decem Libros digesta. Roma, 1646.
  • Lanners, Edi: Illusionen. VerlagC.J.Bucher GmbH, München und Luzern, 1973.
  • Leemann, Fred: Anamorphosen. DuMont Buchverlag, Köln, 1975.
  • Leemann, Fred: Hidden Images. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, NewYork, 1976.
  • Maignan, Emmanuel: Perspectiva horaria, sive de Horographia gnomonica.... Roma, 1648.
  • Mastai, M.L.d’Otrange: Illusion in Art. Abaris Books, New York, 1975.
  • Niceron, Jean-Francois: La Perspective curieuse ou magie artificelle des effets merveilleux. Paris, 1638.
  • Niceron, Jean-Francois: Thaumaturgus opticus, seu Admiranda optices per radium directum, catoptrices per radium reflectum. Paris, 1646.
  • North, John: The Ambassadors’ Secret. Hamblendon and London, London, 2002.
  • Orosz István: Artistic Expression of Mirror, Reflection and Perspective. Symmetry 2000. Portland Press, London, 2002.
  • Orosz István: The Mirrors of the Master. Escher Legacy. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York, 2003.
  • Stephen and Timothy Quay: De Artificiali Perspectiva, or Anamorphosis (1991)(film)
  • Shickman, Allan: “Turning Pictures” in Shakespeare’s England. University of N. Iowa, Cedar Falls Ia. Art Bulletin LIX/1 Mar. 1977.
  • Sakane, Itsuo: A Museum of Fun (The Expanding Perceptual World) The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, 1979 (Part I.) 1984 (Part II.)
  • Schott, Gaspar: Magia universalis naturae et artis. Würzburg, 1657.
  • John Stillwell (1989) Mathematics and Its History, §7.2 Anamorphosis, pp 81,2, Springer ISBN 0-387-96981-0.
  • The Arcimboldo Effect. (exhibition catalogue - Palazzo Grassi, Velence) Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, Bompiani, Milano, 1987.

External links[edit]