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Mouve mouse over the anamorphoses to see the reconstructed image

Anamorphic images are very amusing optical perspective toys.
There exist four different main categories in Anamorphic images and several sub-categories.
These different categories are:

Optical Anamorphoses: No extra viewing device is necessary
-  Perspective drawings: Image reconstruction by viewing angle
-  Geometrical bodys: Image reconstruction by folding a correct shape

Catoptrical  Anamorphoses. Special mirrors to reconstruct the image
-  Cylinder Anamorphoses: Use of cylinder mirror
-  Cone Anamorphoses: Use of cone mirror (touch & see right image)
-  Pyramid Anamorphoses: Use of pyramide mirror
-  Prism Anamorphoses: Use of prism mirror

Dioptrical Anamorphoses: Special lenses to reconstruct the image

Anorthoscopic images: Anorthoscope to reconstruct by rotating image
Read on Plateau's Anorthoscope, or all about Plateau, Ghent University

Unless the latter special Anamorphosis, this classification is based on
Georg Füssslin's & Ewald Hentze's: ANAMORPHOSEN, GEHEIME BILDERWELTEN,
Füsllin Verlag, 1999. This book is the most recent reference source for the variety of Anamorphic images among others.

Although Anamorphic images are unknown by many people unfamiliar with optical curiosities, most people are confronted with an optical perspective Anamorphose almost every day!

The curiously oversized and deformed bicycles in white paint, seen on the streets, are perhaps the most frequently practical, everyday, use of anamorphic images.

These strangly designed bicycles look correctly shaped when viewed from a distance and low angle. This means that a rather unknown technique is in reality very well known by the majority of people. (see left image, move mouse cursor over image)

On this page I hope to explain the history of Anamorphic images and illustrate several examples of different categories. Since I only have two sub-categories in my collection, I hope to receive permission to use images from other collections and museums. "Please, let me know" Full credit will be given.

See some replica Anamorphoses and other newly made Optical Toys  

Anamorphose is originated in the Greek language and simply means BACK (ana) and FORM (morphe). The word is almost his own definition since Anamorphic images are distorted or deformed illustrations that needs to be restored to see the normal view of the depicted, "hidden", subject.

Depending on what category of Anamorphosis, the correct images is very well or less hidden (recognizable) withouth the necessary optical aids or simply, vantagepoint of the onlooker. The art of anamorphosis seems to be derived from the technique of optical correction in architecture as read in liturature since Vitruvius.

The earliest anamorphic images where perspective drawings of a variety of subjects, not necessarely architectural themes. They where amusements made with the knowledge that came from the architectural theories on perspective.

In Leonardo da Vinci's "Codex Atlanticus" (1483 - 1518), a  premature perspective anamorphose is seen, depicting the head of a child. (Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan) Other early examples of anamorphic arts from the 16th. Century are found in temporary treatises on perspective, Barbaro
(1569) & Vignola (1583)

For a real autonomous description of this art-form we have to wait till the dawn of the 17th. Century, Salomon de Caus
(1612), Niceron (1638), Dubreuil (1649). Also Kircher (1646) & Schott (1674) mention the art of anamorphosis. Athanasius Kircher is very well known among historians of the Magic Lantern, explained on other pages of this web site.
1671, several early examples of Magic Lanterns are seen, although these are NOT the earliest references leading too the grandfather of the projector.

In the 17th. Century, anamorphic images turn up in Magical liturature but soon became scientific curiosity's described in 18th. Century books on optics & perspective. A good reference source, I used, for this page is Jurgis Baltrusaitis' "
Anamorphoses ou magie artificielle des effect merveilleux", 1969. A more recent source who also used the Baltrusaitis is "Anamorphosis, an annotated bibliography with special reference to Architectural Representation", compiled by Alberto Pérez-Gomez and Louise Pelletier, 1995 (McGill University Libraries, Montreal)

Anamorphose for Cylinder Mirror. (Move mouse over)

Anamorphose for Cylinder Mirror. (Move mouse over)

Anamorphose for Cone Mirror
(Move mouse over)

Anamorphose for Cone Mirror
(Move mouse over)

Anamorphose for Cone Mirror
(Move mouse over)

The Anamorphose on the left depict a subject often seen in a popular 19th. Century optical toy, the Thaumatrope or turning wonder. The hidden bird & birdcage become cleary visible in the cone mirror. The thaumatrope, probably invented by Dr. Paris, was important in the pre-history of cinema. (1825)

The principles of anamorphic distortion where also of utmost importance in several major "pre-cinema" devices such as the Phenakistoscope, the Zootrope, the Anorthoscope, etc. These principles will be explained on the phenakistoscope page

The cylinder anamorphoses depicted on this page are lithographs with handcolored details. In the center of each image the name of the lithographer is shown, A. Bökel.

Today, anamorphoses can easily be made with the aid of computer software.
For the left image, the phantasmagoria slide of the skull was used, seen on the phantasmagoria slides page, together with the free computer software ANAMORPH ME! (version 0.2) designed by Phillip Kent.


The history of anamorphic images is long & complex but interesting. On the subsequent lines, I hope to give more historical information and a bibliography with interesting references.

Due to copyright restrictions, I'm very limited in showing historical prints illustrating and explaining this story.
I would welcome the permission for use of images from other archives, museums, collectors, etc.

Today, vintage anamorphic images are most rare and real collector items for the Visual Media and Pre-Cinema enthusiast.f

Please, keep me informed about your discoveries


Cone Anamorphose designed with Anamorph Me!

See Plateau's Plateau's Anorthoscope in the U-GHENT
  A most important collection of optical toys is in the science museum of the Ghent University:  "Joseph Plateau collection"
Joseph Plateau Introduction
- The Phenakistiscope Collection
Plateau's Anorthoscope (a most curious kind of anamorphose)
- The Duboscq Bioscope or photographical stereo phenakistiscope disc
- Scientific stereo images of Plateau's "Thin Films" by A. Neyt

Click on the Praxinoscope band and jump to Phenakistiscope and Stampfer discs