Bertamini Lab

This page illustrates the Venus effect. We have described it as a picture perception phenomenon (Bertamini, Latto, Spooner, 2003) but in fact we were too cautious. It exists not only when we see pictures but also in real life situations. Let us demonstrate the Venus effect with an example. Please spend a few seconds describing to yourself the scene in the famous painting below:

Velazquez's Rokeby Venus (1647).

We found that most people claim that Venus is admiring or watching herself in the mirror. Indeed this was also the first documented description of the painting, in the collection of Marques del Carpio in 1651.

The key concept here is that in order for us and Venus to share a similar view of what is on the mirror we would have to share a similar viewpoint. But we do not share a viewpoint with Venus since we are not behind her (with respect to the mirror).

A source of confusion is to think that the Venus effect is about something wrong with the picture. This is not so. What the Venus effect says is that if we see Venus' face in the mirror (and we do) then Venus must be seeing our face (or the camera) in the mirror.

Here is another example:

Titian's Venus with a Mirror (c1555).

Here is a more recent example, from an impressionist.

Mary Cassatt's Mother and child (c. 1905).

This is the oldest example I am aware of.

La dame a la licorne detail (15th century).

The Venus effect is routinely exploited in film and television. It allows the camera to be placed to the side when an actor is looking at herself in a mirror. This way the camera can see both the actor and the actor in the mirror, although what the actor sees in the mirror is the camera. But as we watch the film or the television programme we are completely unaware of the fact that the actor is only pretending to see herself in the mirror.

An entry about the Venus effect has been created on Wikipedia:


Bertamini, M., Latto, R., & Spooner, A. (2003). The Venus effect: people's understanding of mirror reflections in paintings. Perception, 32, 593-599. file

Bertamini, M., & Parks, T.E. (2005). On what people know about images on mirrors. Cognition. 98, 85-104. file

Bertamini, M. (2014). Understanding what is visible in a mirror or through a window before and after updating the position of an object. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. online
DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00476