Chiara Del Core 13 feb 2020 Articles 0 comments
History and development

In art history, perspective represents the method capable of giving a restitution of the third dimension. Through this technique it is possible to reproduce the exact dimensions and shapes and the relative spatial location of an object. Anamorphosis reverses these principles. From the Greek ἀναμόρϕωσις = ana + morfosis, or compound form, it consists of a type of deformation proper to images, architectures and objects, for which the appearance of the same changes according to the observer's point of view. In this case, it is necessary that the observation point is inclined with respect to the plane so as to allow correct viewing of the image.
Anamorphosis was originally considered a geometric method unknown to most and for this reason it was seen as a magical doctrine, an incomprehensible matter practiced by sorcerers and enchanters. However, it aroused the interest of most of those who learned about it. For this reason, over the years, numerous studies were undertaken to deepen this particular technique of inversion of perspective rules. We began to deepen the world of representation and to understand the contradiction between real space and its visual restitution. The awareness that the
reproduction of reality was strongly conditioned by the mind and rationality of the person who elaborated it. The first historical notes written on anamorphosis are found in Leonardo's Atlantic Codex, in which, through the distorted portrait of a child, the ability of this "alternative" technique to arouse amazement in the observer is explained thanks to its bizarre effects.

However, the "golden" era of this phenomenon occurred with the 16th and 17th centuries, when the first scientific studies on the topic were developed. In fact, in the period that includes the Renaissance and the Baroque, there is growing interest for the reverse perspective and for the anamorphism. In art, the first example of anamorphosis can be found in the painting "The Ambassadors" dating back to 1533, by the German painter Hans Holbein. In the lower part it is possible to observe a strange elongated object similar to a cuttlefish bone. The understanding of the painting in which a skull is actually represented can only be obtained if you place yourself at the bottom right of the painting. It is from this moment that the concept of sudden discovery, of amazement that leads to the authentic essence of the things represented and observed, makes its way. It is a process that guides the understanding of space as a basis on which to build and reproduce reality. Deformation is thus studied as a potential discovery of the hidden form and means by which to distinguish the sensitive space from the real one.

Optical illusion tricks

Since ancient times, the desire to represent reality as punctually as possible was manifested. Examples are the frescoes on the walls of the first prehistoric settlements, the stylized reproductions inside the tombs and temples of ancient Egypt and to follow the pictorial works of the peoples of the Mediterranean who were the first to experiment with the technique of the "illusionistic background" . Over the centuries, the development of architecture and its founding elements led to a greater awareness of change and the desire to reproduce the construction details of increasingly complex artefacts. The idea that spreads is to recreate the element in a faithful way to the real one to the point that the observer is deceived about the actual concreteness of the same. One of the most successful techniques in this aim is represented by trompe l'oeil. It is a pictorial genre that spread from the seventeenth century and, as can be deduced from the name "deceives the eye", is aimed at creating effects of optical illusion. In fact, in the internal environments of residences and buildings, scenes were reproduced inside fake windows and frames, painted with great skill and with a realistic look. The dual purpose was to make the spaces wider thanks to the use of perspective and to give three-dimensionality to what was not really, through the play of chiaroscuro. This is how the material limits of the architectural elements are overcome and illusory spaces are created that can confuse the real dimension with that simply represented on the observer's plane.

Giotto: Perspective of the left Coretto inside the Scrovegni Chapel in Padova

But the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were characterized by other experiments in the perspective field which originated the alternative techniques of accelerated, slowed perspective and anamorphosis. These methods differ from each other because while the first two alter the natural order without denying it, the third annihilates it in favor of its own rules. It is a completely new approach according to which uniformity is obtained by deformity and stability by imbalance. It is in this period that, through these stratagems, it is possible to deceive the eye of the observer who, being in the same environment, can have a different and opposite return. Spaces made deeper thanks to the use of very convergent side walls and a raised horizon line or on the contrary rooms that appear less deep, due to the use of diverging side walls. It is respectively the application of the accelerated and slowed perspective. The third technique we are going to talk about is represented by anamorphosis which totally differs from perspective art. According to the latter, the observer had to be on a parallel plane with respect to the representation, so that the view would have been perfectly perpendicular to the object in question.

Furthermore, the position should not have been too close to the vanishing point. Contrary to what has been said, the anamorphosis requires that the observer places himself in a lateral position with respect to the object under examination and very close to the vanishing point, so that the visual ray assumes an oblique conformation. According to this procedure, the object appears distorted if observed in a frontal position but correct and recognizable if observed in an oblique position with respect to the plane. It is therefore immediate to understand how this period was characterized by a real revolution of the perspective laws in favor of new and bizarre representative methodologies.

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