Anamorphosis is the process of creating an anamorphic picture, one that has been distorted so that it appears normal when viewed from a particular direction or with a suitable mirror or lens.
The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein
the Younger, 1533
Hans Holbein’s famous painting The Ambassadors (see right), is a good example, in which a distorted shape lies diagonally across the bottom of the frame. Viewing this from an acute angle transforms it into a skull (it seems that the picture was designed to be hung on a staircase, so that people coming up the stairs would be correctly placed to see and be startled by it).
A more common example is a warning notice on the road, which is extended lengthways so that drivers will see it correctly from their foreshortened perspective; another is the process of making and projecting wide-screen cinema pictures, which use anamorphic lenses to fit the picture into the squarer-shaped frames of the film and reproduce them again. Some anamorphic images have been drawn on paper so they only make sense when viewed in a vertical polished cylinder of the correct diameter placed in the middle.
The word was created in the early eighteenth century from Greek ana–, back, and morphosis, a shaping.