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Anamorphosis Art: History and Modern Uses

You’re walking through a gallery, viewing paintings, sculptures, and statues of various colors and shapes. Suddenly you come upon a rather odd painting. Standing in front of it, it looks nonsensical and chaotic. It looks like someone had tried to paint a scene but everything is off proportionally. But then you start to walk away and as you turn your head for one more look, suddenly you can see the painting clearly. From this angle, it makes perfect sense.

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Anamorphosis art is a visual arts perspective technique that involves creating an image that from one angle looks distorted, but from a particular angle or mirror the image appears normal. The first examples of this technique appear in Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks. It was then included in most 16th and 17th-century drawing manuals and utilized in very significant ways. One such example would be Hans Holbein the Younger’s painting of Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve (The Ambassadors) which has a distorted skull in the foreground that can only be viewed correctly from a certain angle.

This form of art has been utilized in the 21st century as well, in 2014 Felice Varini created Three Ellipses for Three Locks where he painted three ellipses which covered the walls and roads of nearly 100 buildings in the center of Hasselt, Belgium. This genius design would look like mere shapes from most viewpoints but becomes a coherent piece of art when viewed from one particular vantage point in the city.

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New technology in the past few centuries have also changed how the anamorphic technique can be utilized. For example, in photography it can be utilized in certain scenarios such as with taking aerial photographs from an oblique angle. In addition, the film industry has even begun using ‘anamorphic lenses’, dating back to the first widescreen motion picture titled ‘The Robe’. This film used two anamorphic lenses, one was used to compress the panoramic scene onto the standard 35mm film while the other was used to decompress the scene back to panoramic proportions.

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