Art and Camouflage

norwegian carving

In earlier posts we showed perceptual puzzles in some works of art. Artists, and poets and composers, often seem to use these puzzles, especially ambiguity. (There’s more in Illusions and Aesthetics in the category bar to the right).  Here’s another strategy:  to have a design that’s so complicated that the shapes of anything you might recognise within it are hidden, as if by camouflage. This is an example in carving from an eight hundred year old Norwegian Church doorway. There are fabulous creatures here, but you’ve got to look hard for them.  Here’s a demo to reveal a bird I reckon I can puzzle out. The body’s in the middle, with a wing above it to the left, and two claws hanging down,and then there’s a seriously long serpentine neck, weaving in and out of the plant stems:

A bird concealed in interlace carving

These photos are from a nineteenth century plaster cast in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  I’m don’t know if the original church survives, or where in Norway it was.  If anyone knows, please comment.

Interlace camouflage like this was very common in Christian art from fifteen to seven hundred years ago.  Check out the fabulous Irish Book of Kells.  In islamic art representation of creatures was usually not accepted, but arabic inscriptions are often camouflaged in the same way.  The inscriptions in the famous Alhambra in Granada, Spain are so camouflaged they’ve only just been deciphered.  (That’s a news link, at 11/5/09, so I’m not sure how long it be live).