Anamorphosis, the intimate art

What is Anamorphic art?

Anamorphosis is a form of perspective. It obeys all the laws of perspective, usually more strictly than any other form. It is, however, an extreme form of perspective in that an anamorphic picture is usually distorted in some way.

To remove the distortion and bring the image back to the way you normally expect to see it, you have to view it in a special way. This might be using a curved mirror or from a particular direction. Because you have to look in a particular way or from a special point, only one person can see it correctly at a time. So the artist is being very intimate with the viewer. These anamorphic images do not make sense unless you know how or where to place your eye. They are hidden until you look from the correct place.

Anamorphosis and Trompe L’oeil

Trompe L’oeil is often confused with anamorphic art because Trompe L’oeil literally means “to deceive the eye”. The deception is in the reality it portrays. A typical Trompe L’oeil painting is a still life which often depicts a notice board with letters and other objects stuck on it. When the painting is hung on a wall it looks like a real notice board. The deception is to trick you into thinking that it is real.

Some anamorphic art adds deception by concealing the anamorphic image in an otherwise normal looking picture. This has nothing to do with Trompe L’oeil. There is no distortion in Trompe L’oeil, only illusion of reality.

What Anamorphosis is NOT

It is not stretching
Perspective does not stretch in the normal way. To understand this see the discussion of foreshortening in the description of perspective and the comparison of the quick and dirty methods of making anamorphoses and the true plane anamorphoses. However, you can get good approximations to anamorphoses using stretching.

Anamorphosis does not mean transform
Although an anamorphosis is a transformation, it is one of many types of visual transformation and not a synonym for it. It is often confused with the word metamorphosis which means transform in the sense of change of form.

Anamorphosis is not a visual illusion of size
There is a perspective illusion in which objects which can be measured as the same size appear to change size. This is a pure perspective illusion described in the posts on foreshortening and visual illusions.

Practical uses for anamorphosis

The intimate nature of anamorphosis which asks you to look from a particular point has two important daily practical uses. The Vignola method is used in advertising signs which have a rotating set of surfaces.
Signs on the road to tell you to slow down, need to be both viewable by someone looking from a driving seat, and also only when they should see them. They are usually stretched images.

Looking at anamorphic art

Since each anamorphic image is special for you the viewer, each type has its own way to be looked at. The fun of anamorphic art is to LOOK rather than expect. Be surprised.

It is not always possible to make the anamorphic images visible on a screen. Many of the images are available for downloading and printing.

Where to see anamorphosis

Visit the National Gallery in London to see Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors and Perspective box by Samuel von Hoogstraten. Go next door to the National Portait Gallery to see William Scrots portrait of Edward VI.

There is a lot of anamorphosis on the web. See the links page for examples.


M H Pirenne 1970, Optics Painting and Photography, Cambridge University Press
Andrea Pozzo 1707, Perspective in Architecture and Painting. Reprint of English edition published by Dover 1989.
J L Hunt, B G Nickel and C Gigault, “Anamorphic Images”, American Journal of Physics, 68 , March 2000, p 232.
Martin Gardner “Anamorphic art”, Time Travel and Other Mathematical Bewilderments. New York: W.H. Freeman. 1988
John Sharp “Problems with Holbein’s Ambassadors and the anamorphosis of the skull.” Bridges: Mathematical Connections in Art, Music, and Science Conference Proceedings, R. Sarhangi, ed. (See
Jearl Walker,. “Anamorphic pictures: Distorted views from which distortion can be removed”. Scientific American No 245 July 1981 p176.
Art of the grid, Ivars Peterson describes some anamorphic uses of the grid and then how the artist Doug Peden has used grids in his work.

2 responses to “Anamorphosis, the intimate art

  1. Hi all.
    There is an Indian artist named Awtar Singh Virdi, who creates amazing Cylindrical Anamorphic portraits. Visit his website to see his artworks. he is specialist in Scratch Art and Anamorphosis. he is believed to be the only living exponent for Anamorphic Portraits.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s