The four cylindrical mirror anamorphoses presented here were executed in France in the 18th century, circa 1745-1750 and represent figures painted with gouach on a black background. The first figure depicts a standing officer, leaning back against a wall with crossed legs and holding a hat in the left hand. The second represents a flute player wearing a hat, seated on a chair. The third figure alludes to a pipe smoker seated, one foot touching the ground, the other on a footboard. Finally the last displays a man supporting his stomach in a wheelbarrow. By their harsh crafted with energetics and fattened lines and contrasting colours, these four anamorphoses are popular works typical from the 18th century.
Our set of anamorphoses is linked to an other set executed by Elias Baeck (1679-1747), a German painter and engraver. This set represents the four personified continents of which two are on a black background and are kept in the Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris. But two anamorphoses are also linked to ours by their subject and their treatment. The first, depicting a man supporting his stomach in a wheelbarrow, is kept in the collections of the Institut National de Recherches et Documentation Pédagogiques in Paris. This anamorphose is later because it was executed circa 1860 but it is very similar to ours. It is reproduced in the exhibition catalogue about Anamorphoses : chasse à travers les collections du musée, Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris, number 153, plate 64 (illustrated below in Figure 1).
The anamorphose is a projection of the forms out of themselves and they straighten up when they are seen from a set point. This game arose from an obvious observation in which objects looked at from different angles change appearance. From the rules of the perspective pushed to their extremity, the forms are distended not to be recognizable any more that from a single precise point of view situated in the lateral extension. Anamorphoses plunge us into a wonderful world which substitute the probable research of the usual perspectives.
In the 16th century, the most famous anamorphose is the one « Ambassadors » of Holbein painted in 1533 (painting kept in the National Gallery, London) depicting a life-size portrait of two important personalities surrounded by various objects. At first sight, the picture has nothing surprising but the look is disturbed by the presence of an oblong shape erupting from the ground : it is a skull. The anamorphose translates the time in the painting. It is not surprising that it belongs to Léonard de Vinci, obsessed by time and all the spheres of influence, that we owe the first anamorphose known in West. Erotic scenes, holy images and secret portraits establish the main subjects of these compositions which spread in Italy, in the countries of the North and until England.
In the 17th century, the mirror appears in the anamorphotic domain. They are catoptriques anamorphoses being translated by means of cylindrical or conical mirrors, placed in the center of the composition. The angle of refection substituted for the visual angle restores « the « chaos » of the distended forms. The mirror is magic and intelligent : it doesn’t reproduce the image by sending back it but it explains it and translates it. Thanks to the mirror we can see the shape before its decomposition. Of more handy dimensions, they were easier to look at and so much more striking.
According to Jurgis Baltrusaitis, anamorphoses to be looked in reflection in a cone or in a cylinder forming mirror, would be of Chinese origin and would have been introduced in West by the French painter Simon Vouet at the beginnig of the 17th century. A print formed from the one of his sketches (1624-1628) is the oldest anamorphose of this type whom we knew in West. But it is France that we owe the revival of all these forms. Built by members of a religious order and by mathematicians, « perspectives depraved persons » join the high speculations of the spirit and spread under a Cartesian sign. In Italy, they are oddities in the German schools of the visionary cosmogonies. Holland excels at the magic of the perspectives of the cylinder and the cone.
Anamorphoses are disturbing curiosities for the spirit. They create an artificial illusion which gets loose from some concrete material substance of objects. In the 17th and 18th centuries, they are simple optical entertainments and they are looked for as curiosities in the universe of the « Cabinets of curiosities ».
Price : on request
Price : on request