Monday, May 11, 2009

The Magic Lantern

The magic lantern or Lanterna Magica was the ancestor of the modern slide projector. 1671: A projecting lantern is described in Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae, by the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher in 1671. He was describing an already existing device familiar to and employed by the Jesuits since the mid sixteenth century. With an oil lamp and a lens, images painted on glass plates could be projected on to a suitable screen.
19th century: a thriving trade of itinerant projectionists travels around the United Kingdom with their magic lanterns and a large number of slides to put on shows in towns and villages. Some of the slides came with special effects, by means of extra sections that could slide or rotate across the main plate. One of the most famous of these, very popular with children, was The Rat Swallower, where a series of rats would be seen leaping into a sleeping man's mouth. During the Napoleonic wars, a series was produced of a British ship's encounter with a French navy ship, ending patriotically with the French ship sinking in flames, accompanied by the cheers of the audience.

The invention of photography enabled the inexpensive creation and reproduction of slides, and thereby greatly expanded the repertoire of available images. Slide shows would feature famous landmarks, foreign lands, and personages. Posed photographs were sold in series, telling uplifting stories and moral tales. Though there was a huge market for these lanterns and slides in the 19th century, they eventually fell out of favour after the invention of moving pictures, and the few surviving lanterns and slides are sought-after collector's items.

1 comment:

Spilt Ink said...

Blimey! Jesuits? As far back as that? This site is a mine of the most fascinating information. I see I am going to waste far too much time here :)
Great stuff

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