Weird History
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Optical Illusions In Famous Works Of Art

February 8, 2021 7.5k votes 1.2k voters 55.5k views13 items

List RulesVote up the artwork with the most tricky optical illusions.

The history of optical illusions in art blends intent and expression, sometimes with a healthy dose of trickery and fun. Works of art throughout history reflect the circumstances, perspectives, and outlooks of the individuals who created them. This can be done consciously or unconsciously, incorporating new styles, techniques, and ideas. During the Middle Ages, Romanesque and Gothic art and architecture emphasized spirituality and symbolism, leading to a return to classical styles during the Renaissance.

Optical illusions in Renaissance art emphasize a fascination with physical perspective and individualism, while later 17th and 18th century artistic genres demonstrate experimentation with light, color, realism, and the abstract world. Artists in the 19th and 20th centuries continued to explore conceptual art techniques and mind-bending media.

Optical illusions in art - whether they be macabre, playful, or even mathematical - have a unique way of manipulating the human eye. 

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  • 1

    'All Is Vanity,' 1892

    Photo: Charles Allan Gilbert / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Artist Charles Allan Gilbert's All Is Vanity channels the titular line from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible.

    From one perspective, the woman in the work is simply looking in a mirror while seated at a vanity; from another, that mirror and her fleeting reflection are part of a skull. 

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  • 2

    'Landscape Shaped Like a Face,' 1600s

    Photo: Wenceslaus Hollar / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    One of Wenceslaus Hollar's numerous etchingsLandscape Shaped Like a Face incorporates rocks, water, trees, and the like to transform a simple piece of land into the profile of an old man.

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  • 3

    'The Apotheosis of St. Ignatius,' 1690

    Photo: Andrea Pozzo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    As a work that changes the look of a ceiling into a multi-dimensional marvel, The Apotheosis of St. Ignatius by Andrea Pozzo makes it seem like figures are crawling down from above into the Church of St. Ignatius in Rome.

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  • 4

    'Frescoes in the Camera degli Sposi,' 1473

    Photo: Andrea Mantegna / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Andrea Mantegna transformed the ceiling of the Camera degli Sposi, or "Bridal Chamber," at the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua, Italy, into what appears to be a view of the heavens.

    Look up and it seems as though blue sky, clouds, and onlookers are peering down from above

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