The study of perspective grew out of a desire to figure out how to create the appearance of three dimensional reality within two dimensional art. Western scientists, artists, and architects would all study the vanishing point and how to create in a painting the illusion of depth to give a viewer a more accurate portrayal natureís reality. The camera obscura (darkened room) would assist artists in their attempt to accurately portray the reality they saw.
Understanding the rules of perspective, of course, also created the possibility for artists to manipulate space and to create a distorted image (anamorphoses) which could not be seen clearly without a mirror or by viewing the image from a certain angle.
The person who probably is most responsible for popularizing the camera obscura was an Italian, Giovanni Battista della Porta, who described the camera obscura in his book Magia Naturalis in 1558. By the time Porta had published his work much was already known about the basic parameters of the camera obscura. It wasnít very complicated. All that was required was a darkened room or space with a pin hole on one wall and with sufficient light outside an inverted image would be projected on an opposite wall inside the room. For the next 150 years after his book was published most serious scientists and mathematicians of the time including Johann Kepler, William Molyneux, Robert Hooke, Kaspar Schott, Athanasius Kircher, and Johann Zahn all had descriptions and drawings of camera obscuras in their works. They began considering ways to improve the construction by adding a lens (for greater clarity) and a mirror (so the inverted image would be projected just as it appeared outside). By the eighteenth century the camera obscura had been adopted by many artists to help them sketch drawings. David Hockney recently wrote about the use of the camera obscura by many famous artists including Vermeer and Canaletto.
By the end of the 19th century the camera obscura had become more popular and both grown and shrunk in size. Many room-sized camera obscuras were located in resort spots and offered an entertainment which allowed viewers to come inside and be treated to a 360 degree view of an area. The camera obscura also became smaller and thus more portable for both viewing and sketching nature.
Anamorphic art also grew out of an interest in perspective but it was developed as a purposeful distortion of reality created by a deep mathematical understanding of perspective. Anamorphic drawings were constructed using a mathematical grid. The best anamorphic drawings test oneís perception and are difficult or nearly impossible to read accurately without the aid of a mirror. The viewer must employ a mirror so that the image can be seen in a recognizable form.
Both Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Durer toyed with anamorphic images. Durer referred to anamorphic drawings in a letter of 1506 writing that he was going to <?xml:namespace prefix Bologna to learn the art of secret perspective. In 1583 Egnacio Danit wrote about an anamorphic image drawn in a box to be viewed through a hole, suggesting an anamorphic peepbox. This same idea would later be illustrated by Mario Beittini in l642. These optical anamorphoses had to be viewed from a certain vantage point to allow an undistorted view. Probably the most famous optical anamorphoses is found in the painting The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein(1533) in which an elongated and distorted skull is painted on the floor of the painting. The rest of the painting can easily be viewed frontally, but the skull cannot be seen clearly as a skull until one moves to a viewing point to the right front of the painting. Then the skull, symbolizing death becomes clearly visible and creates a stark contrast to the rich nature of the Ambassadorís lives
Optical anamorphoses were the earliest anamorphoses and were joined in the 17th century by catropic(or mirrored) animorphoses. These anamorphic images require the use of a mirror, either cylindrical or conical, on which an undistorted view can be seen. An early illustration of this type of anamorphic image was Hans Troschelís engraving(c.1625) showing a group of satyrs looking at a table top drawing which is not clear until they look in a mirror and only then can clearly see an elephant.
As was the case with the camera obscura the texts of leading mathematicians, scientists and philosophers contained sections on anamorphoses. One of the most thorough descriptions of anamorphic art was done by Jean Francois Niceron, who first wrote about them in 1638 and in his later tome Thaynmaturgu Opticus(1646). The height of catatropic anamorphic art occurred during the 17th and 18th century. In the 19th century anamorphic art would be popularized by toy makers who captured these distorted images in boxed games