Art and Design

The Secret Skull

Hans Holbein the Younger. Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve (‘The Ambassadors’). © The National Gallery, London.

One of the most famous examples of anamorphosis is hidden in a portrait by Hans Holbein. It is called TheAmbassadors and was painted in 1533. Holbein was born in Germany but lived the last part of his life in London working for King Henry VIII.

The painting shows two French ambassadors and is full of objects related to science, the arts and mathematics. Holbein painted everything accurately but a strange shape floating over the floor seems completely different. It is a type of anamorphosis known as a ‘shear transformation’, which means it has been slanted sideways. You can only see what it is meant to be by looking from the side.

The Secret Skull


You will need: whiteboard, internet link to Google Arts & Culture.

Look at the painting on Google Arts & Culture to zoom in on all the objects he painted so carefully and see how strange the skull looks


It's possible to visit the painting at the National Gallery, London.