The Allure of Infinity

The Allure of Infinity

By Tim Hazell

Illusion has formed the basis for scientific and artistic investigation since the Renaissance. Artists such as M.C. Escher have long made use of visual tricks, challenging us with new interpretations of the world around us. Leonardo da Vinci’s experiments with distortion transcended conventional assumptions of geometry. The groundwork was laid for the birth of contemporary rationalism as illusion became a cultural obsession in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

We delight in the allure of a carnival gallery of mirrors, where our reflections are elongated or compressed into comical shapes, seemingly extending to infinity. Confusion mixed with pleasure at concealment has proved irresistible to many cultures. Murals uncovered in the Roman city of Pompeii, buried by volcanic ash in 79 AD, deliberately imply three-dimensional space with flat landscape painting. Anamorphosis is a distorted projection requiring the viewer to use special devices or view at a specific angle to reconstitute the image and is derived from the Greek prefix ana-, meaning “again,” and the word “morphe,” meaning “shape.”

The technique has long been used by artists to disguise caricatures, erotic, and scatological scenes from a casual viewer while revealing an undistorted image to the knowledgeable spectator. The visual deceit of trompe l’oeil is closely related. The difference lies in the nature of the trick. Painters use trompe l’oeil as a device when the observer is standing in a conventional spot. Two objects, such as an apple and the portrait of a man wearing a bowler hat may be combined, as in the famous painting “La Grande Guerre” (The Great War) by Rene Magritte. The results manifest an incongruity that cannot be resolved.

Anamorphosis in modern technology has resulted in new virtual media. Multisensory shape modification has brought artificial perspectives to web applications. The result is ambiguity in virtual reality. In landscape architecture, illusory constructions, such as mazes and labyrinths, have provided entertainment and deep spiritual experiences since ancient times. Herodotus visited the Egyptian Labyrinth in the fifth century BC and had this comment:

“I found it greater than words could tell, for although the temple at Ephesus and that at Samos are celebrated works, yet all the works and buildings of the Greeks put together would certainly be inferior to this labyrinth as regards labor and expense.”

Whether we lose ourselves in products of contemporary ingenuity or the experiments of Renaissance artists and scientists, illusion will continue to fascinate us!

Illusion foods are those dishes that were designed to fool either eye or palate. In the Middle Ages, they provided sustenance and entertainment, which is always a very good thing! If you’re trying to cut down on your red meat consumption, or you’re a vegan, cauliflower steak could be a delicious substitute!

Cauliflower Steak

1 medium cauliflower, thickly sliced


Prepare in your favorite marinade, as for meat. Chargrill on the barbeque or pan-fry. Serve with fried onions and mushrooms, au poivre, chimichurri sauce, capers, or fresh herb sauce as you would a traditional steak.