History

source: Jurgis Baltrusaitis, Anamorphoses les perspectives dépravées, Flamarion 1985

The observation that the true seems false and that some false are perceived by the eye as true goes back to antiquity (we remember the columns of the Parthenon).

This opposition will give birth to the perspective: an artifice allowing to restore the third dimension on a support which counts only two. During the Italian Renaissance, artists who were also mathematicians began to define rules and find calculations to give perspective a maximum realism (these calculations will be verified 5 centuries later by comparing them with a photographic image).

Shortly after the discovery of these calculations and rules, some artists, perhaps the very ones who had discovered them, felt the need to transgress them, or rather to push them to the extreme, producing the first anamorphoses.

Anamorphic drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, 1483-1518

Anamorphic drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, 1483-1518

At the beginning of the 17th century, accessories appeared that made it possible to combine the geometric calculations of perspective with the laws of light reflection: cylindrical and conical mirrors.
The images distorted by this process are almost unreadable without their accessory and the drawing. As looking at the tip of the cone while drawing the opposite of what the eye sees, is extremely difficult.

Jean-Francois Niceron Conical anamorphosis of Louis XIII, 1638

Jean-Francois Niceron Conical anamorphosis of Louis XIII, 1638

anamorphotic drawings by Father du Breuil with the portrait of Louis XIII, 1649

anamorphotic drawings by Father du Breuil with the portrait of Louis XIII, 1649

In the 18th century, mirror anamorphosis spread all over Europe, and were mainly found in the cabinets of curiosity. They fascinated the philosophers of the Enlightenment and amazed the enlightened amateurs.

"As [curved] mirrors have the property of rendering deformed the things that are exposed to them and that consequently they can make deformed objects appear natural, one also gives, in optics, the means of tracing on paper deformed objects which being seen by these kinds of mirrors appear of their natural figure."
Diderot's Encyclopedia, 1751.

Woman with a bird, Netherlands 18th century. Restored conical anamorphosis

Woman with a bird, Netherlands 18th century.
Restored conical anamorphosis

Anamorphosis, objects of philosophical speculation in the 17th century, scientific curiosity and princely entertainment in the following century, were in decline by the beginning of the 19th century. They were printed in series, most often from engravings with coarse lines and garish colors. A wide range of subjects are represented, from farm animals to pornographic or scatological scenes. It is no longer a question of wonder but of derision and hidden obscenity. Later, at the beginning of the 20th century, they were found in toy shops, but these images continued to interest philosophers and artists.