A Quay Brothers Animation Explains Anamorphosis, the Renaissance Illusion That Hides Pictures within Pictures

First appear­ances can be deceiv­ing.

Take physi­cist Emmanuel Maig­nan’s 1642 fres­co in a cor­ri­dor of Rome’s Trinità dei Mon­ti monastery.

Viewed head on, it appears to be a some­what uncon­ven­tion­al land­scape in which one of the few remain­ing branch­es of a muti­lat­ed tree spreads over a city, far in the dis­tance. Streaky clouds sug­gest heavy weath­er is brew­ing.

Stroll to the end of the cor­ri­dor and take anoth­er look. You’ll find that the tree has con­tract­ed, and the clouds have recon­fig­ured them­selves into a por­trait of Saint Francesco of Pao­la, pray­ing beneath its boughs.

It’s a prime exam­ple of oblique anamor­pho­sis, an image that has been delib­er­ate­ly dis­tort­ed by an artist well versed in per­spec­tive, with the end result that the image’s true nature will only be revealed to those view­ing the work from an uncon­ven­tion­al point.

The Quay Broth­ers’ doc­u­men­tary short, above, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with art his­to­ri­an Roger Car­di­nal, uses a com­bi­na­tion of their delight­ful­ly creepy sig­na­ture pup­pet stop motion, as well as ani­mat­ed 3‑D cut outs, to lift the cur­tains on how the human eye can be manip­u­lat­ed, using prin­ci­ples of per­spec­tive.

Anamor­pho­sis may not seem like such a feat in an age when a num­ber of soft­ware pro­grams can pro­vide a major assist, but why would Renais­sance artists put them­selves to so much extra trou­ble?

The Quay Broth­ers delve into this too.

Per­haps the artist was inject­ing a bit of social crit­i­cism, like Hans Hol­bein the Younger, whose 1533 por­trait, The Ambas­sadors, includes a secret anamor­phic skull. This could be tak­en as a jab at the excess­es of the wealthy young diplo­mats who pro­vide the painting’s sub­ject, except that the one who com­mis­sioned the work, Jean de Din­teville, prized the mot­to “Memen­to mori.

Maybe he know­ing­ly ordered up the naked death’s head to go along with his ermine and bling, an exam­ple of hav­ing one’s cake and eat­ing it too, and yet anoth­er dizzy­ing head trip for those view­ing the paint­ing from the intend­ed angle.

(Betcha didn’t have to work too hard to guess the skull’s loca­tion, though…)

Or an artist might choose to employ anamor­pho­sis as a brown paper wrap­per of sorts, as in the case of Erhard Schön’s erot­ic wood­block prints.

Else­where, the goal was to empha­size patience, reflec­tion, and cleav­ing to a pious path by reward­ing those who craned their necks toward a spir­i­tu­al peep­hole with an appro­pri­ate­ly reli­gious view.

(Pity the poor pil­grim who stepped up expect­ing Erhard Schön…)

For a 21st-cen­tu­ry take on anamor­phic art, have a look at the work of the graf­fi­ti col­lec­tive TRULY | Urban Artists here.

The Quay Broth­ers’ short film, “De Arti­fi­ciali Per­spec­ti­va, or Anamor­pho­sis,” has been made avail­able on The Met Muse­um’s YouTube chan­nel.

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Opti­cal Poems by Oskar Fischinger, the Avant-Garde Ani­ma­tor Despised by Hitler, Dissed by Dis­ney

Watch Mar­cel Duchamp’s Hyp­not­ic Rotore­liefs: Spin­ning Discs Cre­at­ing Opti­cal Illu­sions on a Turntable (1935)

The Anatom­i­cal Draw­ings of Renais­sance Man, Leonar­do da Vin­ci

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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