Magic lantern

DEFINITION

A precursor to the modern slide projector, an optical instrument having either a way to use sunlight or a candle (and later an oil lamp, "oxy-hydrogen limelight," or "arclight") and a lens through which an image painted or printed on a glass plate was projected and enlarged. Early in the 15th century an Italian named Giovanni de Fontana described a lantern to which a picture was attached in such a way that it would project the picture onto a wall. The first magic lanterns to employ lenses were developed in the mid-17th century. Historians disagree about who was the first to invent the device. It appears to have been the product of a number of small improvements. By the early 19th century numerous itinerant projectionists traveled around Europe with magic lanterns and collections of slides, putting on shows wherever they could draw a paying audience. Multiple projectors allowed for the dissolving of one image into another. Some slides boasted special effects. Some had extra layers that could be moved across each other. One of these, very popular with children, was see thumbnail to leftThe Rat-Swallower. One rat after another could be made to appear to jump into the open mouth of a sleeping man! A narrative sequence could be presented, such as the one created in England about 1812 to tell the story a battle between a British warship and a French one. A narrator told the audience how it happened while the pictures were projected, ending on an image of the French ship in flames. (Remind you of the 2003 movie Master and Commander?) In the middle of the 19th century, with the invention of photography and the availability of magic lanterns for use in one's home, the number of magic lantern slides produced increased tremendously. Commercially available sets of slides often featured photographs of famous places and celebrities, or actors performing allegories. The popularity of magic lanterns ended with the invention of cinematography at the end of the 19th century.Related links: The Magic Lantern Society, Great Britain, offers a good history of the magic lantern, including lots of pictures. The Magic Lantern Society of The United States and Canada. Seven complete magic lantern shows made in Britain, c. 1890, color lithographic transfers, including The Elephant's Revenge, Birds and Their Nests, Wild Animals and How They are Hunted, Our Colonies: New Zealand, The British Navy, The British Navy, and Our Colonies: India. The American Magic-Lantern Theater, East Haddam, CT, offers to put on shows wherever you like. Also see camera lucida, camera obscura, theater, zoetrope, and zoopraxiscope.

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