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optical illusion

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Macabre optical illusions


by G. Sarcone and Marie-Jo Waeber

"And there the children of dark Night (Νύξ, 'Nyx') have their dwellings, Sleep (Ύπνος, 'Hypnos') and Death (θάνατος, 'Thanathos'), awful gods. The glowing Sun never looks upon them with his beams, neither as he goes up into heaven, nor as he comes down from heaven. And the former of them roams peacefully over the earth and the sea's broad back and is kindly to men; but the other has a heart of iron, and his spirit within him is pitiless as bronze: whomsoever of men he has once seized he holds fast: and he is hateful even to the deathless gods."
(Hesiod, Theogony, Greek epic 8th or 7th Century B.C.)

Skull/death's head: teschio (It), tête de mort (Fr), calavera (Sp), Totenkopf (Ger), caveira (Por), doodshoofd (Du), lebka (Cz), мёртвая голова (Ru), الجمجمة (Ar), κρανίο (Gr), 头骨 (Ch), どくろ (Jap).

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The SKULL, symbol of duality of life
phrenologic skull  Often symbols of MORTALITY (or some romantic notion of immortality - as the belief that a spiritual part of a person survives death) and POWER, skulls have been employed in human rituals and art since the dawn of humanity: from the ancient animal skulls in Paleolithic burial sites, to the curlicued cattle skulls that haunt Georgia O’Keeffe’s canvasses.
Skulls cannot be assumed to be only a mere symbol of death, they are also used in initiation rituals as a symbol of REBIRTH, symbolizing the ‘sephirah daath’ (סְפִירָה - sephirah, “enumeration” in Hebrew) on the cabalistic tree of life, the gateway to a higher awareness only achievable through spiritual death and rebirth.

  Skulls express the EQUALITY of all people in the face of death and cause us to recognize our mortal nature and the transcendence of our temporal existence. Think of the scene from Shakespeare's Hamlet where the prince of Denmark holds the skull of Yorick, a former servant, bemoaning, in his famous soliloquy (“to be, or not to be?”), the aimlessness and temporary nature of worldly matters. In a Freudian sense, the skull with its sarcastic smile symbolizes the awareness of someone who has crossed the threshold of the unknown – the deliquescence and the transmutation of our EGO into the universal consciousness.

phrenologic skull 2  Iconography and popular imagery, from the Roman era and onwards, often portrays the skull as ‘speaking’, delivering to the observer a reflection about his present and future life. The message can be heard as a specific philosophy of life or as a moral monition. Generally, in illusive vanitas, the skull says:
• “Memento mori”
(‘remember that you must die’)
• “Carpe diem”
(‘seize the day’, both quotes mean we should live the present moment to the fullest)
• “Noi eravamo quello che voi siete, e quello che noi siamo voi sarete”
(‘we were what you are; and what we are, you will be’)
• “Vanitas vanitatum”
(‘vanity of vanities’ a reminder of the transitory quality of earthly pleasure)
• “Et in Arcadia ego”
(‘I too am in Arcadia’, means the omnipresence and unavoidability of death, even in places where man believes he can avoid it)
• “Expecto te”
(‘I am awaiting you’)
• “Ubi sunt”
(‘where are those who were before us?’)

arrow More latin quotes here.


Skulls in art and in optical illusions
Andy Wharol Skull
Paintings with a human skull as the centrepiece are known as ‘Vanitas paintings’. Representations of skulls in art are legion of course, from Hans Hans Holbein's distorted death’s-head in his painting “The Ambassadors” through to Andy Warhol's paintings of screen-printed skulls in gory black and white and overlaid with different colors. Skulls have their place in optical illusions too, as you can see in the gallery below. They are often hidden or suggested in the whole ‘host’ image.

arrow Source of the text: Curiopticals, Carlton Publishing.


Double-Click on the images to see enlarged versions of the same.

Click once to make them thumbnail size again!

au revoir, vintage
Au Revoir! (Vintage card)
children, vintage
Children & pup
Famille impériale, vintage
Famille Impériale (Vintage)
Judge magazine, vintage
Judge Magazine cover, 1894
Amour de Pierrot, vintage
L'Amour de Pierrot, 1905
All is vanity, vintage
All is Vanity, C.A. Gilbert
Voluptate Mors, vintage
Voluptate Mors, Dali
Ballerina, vintage
Ballerina, Dali
Ballerina, vintage
The descent, Poster
Ballerina, vintage
Cher, Album
Shrooms, horror
The Decemberists, Poster
Monks, skull
Owen Smith's skull cover
The New Yorker, cover
MADD, poster
Mothers Against Drunk Driving
Lovecraft, skull
H.P. Lovecraft Expo
MADD, poster
House on the Edge of the Park
Lovecraft, skull
Pathology, the film
Orosz, skull
Istvan Orosz's hidden skull
Orosz, skull 2
Orosz's hidden skull (2)
Children and skull
Children and skull, 19th, Germany
Budri Satria's Skull
Budi Satria's hidden skull
Reversible skull
Reversible animated skull
Merian Mathieu, XVII Century
Flashing skull
Flashing skulls, Alex Grey
(The stationary image seems to move)
The property and the copyright of the images above
belong to the respective authors

arrow Skulls in Art & Culture...
arrow Skull symbolism in Wikipedia...
arrow A Magic Geometric Trick involving 12 skulls...
arrow Pay also a visit to our Vintage Optical Illusion page...


Vintage Optical Illusion Cards & Books
Optical Allusions 2 Optical Allusions 3 Optical Allusions 4
Devil's Face Woman or Skull? Young lady & her mother

You wil find more macabre illusions in our book:
Curiopticals, vintage optical illusion book
Curiopticals, a book on optical illusions & curiosities
Mankind has always admired art, and optical illusions are an early artform. From the earliest, experimental imagery, this book features all kinds of fascinating optical illusions throughout history. Curiopticals provides a unique take on a well established subject which both adults and older children will enjoy. Millions of illusions have been produced in the name of science, education and above all fun, and this book looks at more than 150 of them.
Where to purchase it from (online stores)?
Amazon USAAmazon UK
Amazon France
Amazon Germany
Reviews and accolades
Curiopticals has been reviewed by: The Sun (UK).

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