Last Updated on 2022/01/11
Hidden in the Convent of Santa Maria dei Monti at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome, there is one of the largest and oldest anamorphic images Depicting St. Francis of Paola, Performer of Miracles.
The gigantic fresco was painted in 1646 by Emmanuel Maignan (1601-1676).
The painting consists of an extraordinary landscape that spans more than 6 meters, covering almost the entire wall of a long corridor.
As you move toward the end of the passage, the viewer reaches a place from where the landscape begins to disappear, slowly showing a hidden image of St Francis of Paola performing a miracle.
The convent also houses other examples of illusory painting and anamorphism such as the works of the Jesuit Andrea Pozzo (1694), and the mural by Jean François Nicéron (1613-1646).
The anamorphosis of Nicéron (then terminated by Maignan), due to the overlapping of multiple layers of lime, has fallen into oblivion for over two hundred years, since the Napoleonic invasion of the capital (late 18th century).
During the 2008 restoration of Nicéron’s painting, scholars also identified an inscription in Greek in the central area of the composition. This reads: “The apocalypse of optics is an eyewitness of the Apocalypse”.
The apocalypse of optics is the eyewitness of the Apocalypse
Between the two anamorphoses, there is a complex and fascinating catoptric astrolabe (the solar clock with a reflecting dial) made by Maignan himself.
Anamorphism (from the Greek anamórphosis, “reconstruction of the form”) is a complex geometric technique conceived by ingenious scholars who, since the dawn of the Renaissance, have dedicated themselves to the perspective and its multiple applications. Anamorphosis is a distorted projection or perspective requiring the viewer to occupy a specific vantage point. The earliest known example, known as Leonardo’s Eye, was executed by Leonardo da Vinci and is included in the Codex Atlanticus (1483-1518).
Ars Magna lucis et umbrae in decem Libros digesta by Athanasius Kircher, written in 1646, represents one of the most comprehensive studies on anamorphism, optics, and image analysis.
The book contains early descriptions of the camera obscura and magic lantern. The work also includes some of the earliest observations with a microscope, preceding those of Hooke and van Leeuwenhoek by two decades.
Source 1, 2, related Giuseppe Castiglione in China, Jesuits in China
Video source: Empire of the Eye: The Magic of Illusion-St. Francis of Paola, Performer of Miracles
Matteo Damiani is an Italian sinologist, photographer, author and motion designer. Matteo lived and worked for ten years in China. Founder of CinaOggi.it, China-underground.com, Weirditaly.com and RetroFuturista.com.