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Everyone gathered to see what was so fascinating about this particular piece of art. It was unlike anything they had ever seen before. The artist’s image had a hidden aura about it and people were captivated. The artist behind this art form was Hans Holbein, the Younger who painted The Ambassadors, displayed in London’s National Gallery.
The acclaimed artist hid a distorted skull inside the painting that people could only make out if viewed from a certain angle. Artists called this art form anamorphosis, the art of concealing images within a deformed painting. Later in history, this art form would expose the world to the Secret Portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
What is Anamorphosis Art?
Art lovers would tell you that it is the artist’s way of getting intimate with viewers. However, not everyone can tell what message the artist is trying to portray through his painting, as it’s distorted. In fact, most people, during that era, used special devices to view the image more closely. Most importantly, people used anamorphosis to deliver secret messages from person to person.
Anamorphosis—the Secrecy behind the Art
Rebellion, allegiance to the opposition, and standing up against the current regime was done in secrecy amongst a group of individuals sworn to protect the cause. This was hugely popular in the Renaissance era where officials forbid people to indulge in any form of sorcery or dark arts. Furthermore, artists came up with two ways to express their creativity. One of them was widely used by people, perspective (oblique) and mirror (catoptric).
Oblique anamorphosis creates an unconventional image, which the viewer can’t view unless specifically told to from a certain position. A famous example of this technique is on the curved ceiling of the Church of Saint Ignazio in Rome, painted by Andrea Pozzo.
Through the painting he depicted Saint Ignatius descending into heaven. Soon after, artists began using a different technique to depict images, the distorted technique called mirror anamorphosis.
Mirror anamorphosis transforms a flat deformed picture into a three-dimensional picture using a cylindrical mirror placed on the drawing. Therefore, artists began to paint pictures that couldn’t be viewed with a naked eye, but were only viewable with the help of a mirror. This technique swept through England in 1746, the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Charles Edward Stuart or better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie led the Jacobite uprising in 1745. His motivation behind the uprising was to regain the throne of Britain for his family. However, he was defeated at the Battle of Culloden, thus putting an end to the Jacobite cause. Even though he lost, there was one good thing that came out of the cause—the Secret Portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
After his loss, people couldn’t support the Jacobite cause openly and if caught, could be charged with treason so they did in the privacy of their homes. Prince Charles friends and loyal followers of the movement used a painting created via anamorphosis to show their support.
The artist, whose identity remains unknown to this day, concealed the Prince’s image in the painting, which the artist drew on a tray. In order to see the image of Prince Charles, the followers placed a goblet on the tray, and saw his image reflected on it.
If you ever come across an anamorphosis-styled painting, tilt your head, close one eye, and move closer to the picture, and then you may see the real meaning behind the painting.