At the time that it was invented, in 15th Century, The Laterna Magica – or Magic Lantern – was a revelation. In basic terms: it is a slide projector, with a simple light source, such as candle that projects hand-painted slides onto a screen. It may sound incredibly simple by today’s standards, but the Laterna Magica reinvented the way people saw the world.
The remarkable history of this innovation is highlighted as part of an exhibition on the history of projection at AV Stumpfl Museum, in Austria. Reinhold Stumpfl, the owner and founder of Canon partner, AV Stumpfl, and an avid collector, asked his friend, Dr. Scheucher, a recognized expert in visual storytelling, to curate the exhibition.
“There’s a connecting line beginning from the early times of mankind, right through to today where powerful images in projections are used by powerful people to shock and influence.” Dr Andreas Scheucher, curator of the AV Stumpfl Museum.
“The idea of telling stories with pictures is as old as humanity itself ” – Reinhold Stumpfl, owner and founder of Canon partner AV Stumpfl.
During the reformation in Europe in the 16th Century, the Catholic Church dominated in matters of morality and law, until the Protestants challenged their dogma.
“The Jesuits were very important for the Roman Catholic Church, as they were multimedia people,” explained Dr Andreas Scheucher, curator of the AV Stumpfl Museum. “They founded a special form of spiritual theater and used the Magic Lantern. The first projected images were images of the devil.”
“Jesuits travelled widely using the Laterna Magica to spread church propaganda, and to show that if you were not a good Catholic, you would go to Hell. From the middle ages, right through to today, powerful images have been used in projections to shock and influence.” said Dr. Scheucher.
This was probably the first use of broadcast images for the purposes of propaganda. As wealth moved from the hands of the church and aristocracy and into the hands of merchants, so did the use of the Laterna Magica.
During the French Revolution (1789-1799), stage magician, Étienne- Gaspard Robert, discovered how to project from two Magic Lanterns mounted on rails and used this to entertain Parisian people, who were shaken by riots. He performed terrifying shows of supernatural spectacles called ‘Phantasmagoria’.
In the middle ages, an oil lamp was used with the projecting apparatus, but the oxy-hydrogen lamp was invented in the 19th Century. Hydrogen and oxygen were mixed, creating a high temperature in a chemical reaction so that a limestone began to glow with a very white light. This ‘limelight’ was about 6,000-8,000 lumen, which is brighter than average car headlights of today, this was at a time that most people had seen was the light of a yellow oil lamp.
Astonishing images from around the world were meticulously hand-transferred onto glass slides in crisp, beautiful detail, and the “limelight” then allowed them to fill huge screens with news, discoveries and catastrophes, such as erupting volcanoes.
By the Victorian industrial revolution, its popularity peaked, and thousands of people descended upon the Royal Albert Hall in London, UK, to see these projection shows. The apparatus used were big projectors with three lenses, dissolve units and limelight. It was the cinema projector of the 19th Century. The slides are unique, feature many colors and every slide is an artwork.
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