False perspective


Satire on False Perspective by William Hogarth (1753).

Whoever makes a Design without the knowledge of Perspective will be liable to such absurdities as are shewn in this Frontispiece.

More eye-deceiving art for All Fools’ Day. Everyone knows MC Escher‘s pictures which continually played with the rules of perspective. Hogarth’s satire is less well-known and may even be the first of its kind. I haven’t seen any examples earlier than this.

A few contemporary equivalents follow, all of which can be found at Impossible World, a site devoted to visual disjunction.


Piranesi in Budapest by István Orosz.


De wachtkamer van de artistieke Architect by Jos de Mey.


Dreams by Nikol.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Trompe l’oeil

10 thoughts on “False perspective”

  1. Hi Paul. Yes, Piranesi pre-dates Hogarth since the creation of the Prisons overlaps the work above. I nearly included him for that reason although it’s not clear how deliberate the confusion was in his case. Plate VII, The Drawbridge, features a bridge whose perspective conflicts with the drawbridge above it but this was missing in the first state of the print. In the second state of the series he deepened the shadows and added a lot more detail.

    Oddly enough, Hogarth and Piranesi are connected via architect Sir John Soane who knew Piranesi and whose amazing home in London displays examples of their work.

  2. PS , yes, you are right, the perspective of the bridge in the second stage of plate VII also conflicts. For me that print has been spoilt a bit by the inconsistent way the bridge has been drawn, the rest of the print is quite rough and drawn by hand, but the bridge looks as if it has been drawn with a ruler and spoils the harmony of the picture.

  3. Oh, thanks for the link. I should go back to Wilton-Ely’s monograph and see what he says on this subject. I can never decide how deliberate this was on Piranesi’s part, the Prisons were a lot more improvised than his other works. Even though he was a master of correct perspective that doesn’t mean that the Prisons couldn’t have been created with perspective errors left intact. Either way, the ambiguity of the issue only adds to their revolutionary nature.

  4. Wilton-Ely writes of “contrived irrationality of space” and “Piranesi contrives a system of conflicting illusions”, he never suggests that these might be errors.

Comments are closed.

Discover more from { feuilleton }

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading