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Magic lantern

Related: magic - phantasmagoria

image sourced here. [Mar 2005]


The magic lantern or Laterna Magica was the ancestor of the modern slide projector.

It was first described in Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae, by Athanasius Kircher in 1671; he may have been describing an already existing device rather than announcing a new invention. With an oil lamp and a lens, images painted on glass plates could be projected on to a suitable screen; the ancestor of the modern slide projector. By the 19th century, there was a thriving trade of itinerant projectionists, who would travel Britain with their magic lanterns, and a large number of slides, putting 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. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_lantern [Mar 2005]

Thomas Rasmussen Walgenstein

By 1664, a Danish scientist Thomas Rasmussen Walgenstein, the first writer to use the name Lanterna Magica, was demonstrating the device in various European cities. --Stein, R., 'The Great Inventions'

* Queried by David Robinson in the introduction to the MLSGB book 'Lantern Image The Iconography of the Magic Lantern 1420 - 1880' stating that the book was written in Rome but published (and presumably illustrated) in Amsterdam. Hence Kircher may have had his description wrongly interpreted. --http://www.acmi.net.au/AIC/MAGIC_LANTERNS.html [Dec 2005]

The true inventor of the magic lantern (1979) - Willem A. Wagenaar

Knowing this makes it highly debatable whether Kircher can be considered the true inventor of the magic lantern. This assumption is based on the first edition of ‘Ars Magna’ in 1646, but here we find nothing on projecting lanterns. Nothing points to an arrangement with light, slide and projecting lens, in that order. The second edition of his work in 1671 shows only the strange arrangement as mentioned above, and at that time other scientists like the Dane Thomas Walgenstein and the Dutch Christiaan Huygens had already described the familiar magic lantern several times . --http://www.luikerwaal.com/newframe_uk.htm?/kircher_uk.htm [Dec 2005]

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