Emmanuel Maignan, Saint Francis of Paola (detail), 1642
I have talked here before about landscapes that are transformed into bodies, and vice versa. Another example can be found at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome, in a corridor of an old convent building, part of the Trinità dei Monti. There on the wall is a fresco, painted in 1642, showing a landscape with figures, buildings and small boats. But there is something slightly uncanny about the dark shadows of the hills and certain incoherent shapes encroaching into the view. As you walk away, towards the form of a large tree framing the view, and then look back, the landscape is no longer readily apparent: it has been replaced by the bearded figure of Saint Francis of Paola, founder of the Order of the Minims to which the convent belongs. The painting is explored in Anamorphosis, or De Artificiali Perspectiva, a 1991 film by the Brothers Quay. 'Anamorphosis thrives on mystery, and its masters rarely give away their secrets', the narrator says. But the film includes an animated demonstration using thread and paper figures: 'a peep at the apparatus which Emmanuel Maignan supposedly used to construct his anamorphic fresco of Saint Francis.'
Emmanuel Maignan, Saint Francis of Paola, 1642
The Brothers Quay, Anamorphosis, or De Artificiali Perspectiva, 1991