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A BRIEF HISTORY

1 Introduction

2 Studying Art History

3 Photography and Art History

4 Teaching Art History

5 Magic Lanterns and Slides

6 Reproductions

7 Digital Technology

Bibliography

5 - Magic Lanterns and Slides

In 1850, two Daguerreotypists in Philadelphia, William and Frederick Langenheim, invented a transparent positive image of a photograph in the form of a glass slide that could be projected onto a wall or screen using a Magic Lantern. The practice of using Magic Lanterns to project images on glass plates was by no means new. As early as the 17th century, glass slides had been projected using a Magic Lantern.

An illustration showing a magic lantern and projected images
from the 1671 edition of Athanasius Kircher's Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae

Athanasius Kircher, a German Jesuit priest, published Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae in 1646 that included a description of a way to project images using sunlight or candle light employing a convex lens as the means to focus the images
(from A History of the Magic Lantern, compiled by George Auckland)

However, the Hyalotype ("hyalo" is Greek for glass), as the Langenheim's called their invention, employed actual photographs. Lantern slides were black-and-white.

A 19th-Century Black-and-White Lantern Slide

But they were frequently tinted with transparent colours to enhance the effect on the screen, such as in this example showing Gros's painting of Napoleon Bonaparte Visiting the Plague Stricken at Jaffa (March 11, 1799).

A Hand-Coloured Lantern Slide of Antoine-Jean Gros's Napoleon Bonaparte Visiting the Plague Stricken at Jaffa (March 11, 1799), 1804 (detail)

The dimensions of the original magic lantern slide is about 31/4 x 4 inches

A process for producing colour lantern slides had been invented by the German company Agfa in 1916, but because of the war it did not become available outside Germany until the 1920s. A scan of a lantern slide in Sweet Briar's collection shows the Sphinx and one of the pyramids. As you can see, the Sphinx is still buried up to its neck which means the original photograph must have taken before 1925 when excavations began.

The Sphinx and Pyramid of Khufu
Number 27 in a series of lantern slides entitled Round the World

Various types of Magic Lantern projectors were available. There were single-lens projectors but also biunial or double-lens "stereopticon" Magic Lanterns. The biunial projector has two separate optical systems that allow for the projection of dissolves and other effects.

A Biunial or double lens Magic Lantern
Made in England in 1878 by Tyler & Stackemann, Waterloo Road, London
The biunial magic lantern has two separate optical systems to allow the projection of dissolves and other effects.

Dissolving view of the Old Royal Exchange on Fire


Click on the image for a series of five dissolves from one slide to another which produce the effect of a building going up in flames.

Triple lens projectors were also manufactured and could produce even fancier special effects, such as dissolving from one view to another on two of the lenses, while a snow effect is produced from the third. Thus one of the views could be of a scene with no snow, snow then falls and the view dissolves into a view with snow.

A "Lanternist" with a Triunial or triple lens projector
The triunial has three separate optical systems which enables the "lanternist" to produce sophisticated special effects.

In the photograph above on the left we see a "lanternist," as the projectionist was known, standing next to a triunial projector. Beside the projector you can also see a tank of oxygen. By the 1870s, projectors were using limelight as the source of illumination.

Limelight is a dazzling white light that was produced by directing a very hot flame onto the surface of a pellet of lime. The earliest and simplest form of limelight was the oxy-calcium lamp. The flame of a spirit lamp was placed near the pellet of lime and a jet of oxygen was used to raise the temperature of the flame and force it against the surface of the lime to produce a brilliant white light. An even brighter limelight could be produced using an oxygen and hydrogen jet.

A Magic Lantern Slide Lecture on St. Peter's Basilica, 1897
An illustration from the December 1897 catalogue of T. H. McAllister Company, Manufacturing Opticians, New York

An illustration from a magic lantern slide catalogue of 1897 shows a large audience attending a slide lecture with an image of St. Peter's Basilica projected onto the screen. If you look carefully, you can see two tanks next to the biunial projector, one for oxygen and the other for hydrogen. The flow of oxygen and hydrogen had to be carefully regulated. These projectors could produce a constant beam of very bright light. A standard 31/4 by 31/4-inch glass slide could fill a screen over twelve feet across.

By 1873, Bruno Meyer, a German art historian at the Polytechnic Institute in Karlsruhe, was using projected lantern slides in art history lectures, and actually started to manufacture what he called Glasphotogramme which he sold at two marks a piece. When the new electric Magic Lantern projectors were introduced in 1892, the technology was enthusiastically adopted by Hermann Grimm, a professor of art history at the University of Berlin. In an article published in 1897, he reports how lantern slides permitted the projection of works full-size, or allowed small works or fragments to be enlarged to colossal scale (such as in the the illustration above with an image of St. Peter's Basilica).

Grimm's successor at Berlin was Heinrich Wölfflin who also embraced the new technology. He used slides extensively and was the first to use two slide projectors together so he could show details alongside the principal image, or show different images side-by-side.

Photograph of Heinrich Wölfflin
Wölfflin, who was professor of art history at the University of Berlin from 1901 to 1912, is seen in this photograph examining a framed reproduction of a painting by Giovanni Bellini.

Projected lantern slides quickly became the favorite technology of the lecturing art historian and remained in use for the next several decades.

Agfa colour glass lantern slide (83 x 83 mm) of Wadham College, Oxford
This early English example of a colour Agfa slide was taken by the Oxford physicist T. C. Keeley.

As early as 1916, a process for producing colour lantern slides had been invented by the German company Agfa but did not become available outside Germany until the 1920s. In 1936, the discovery of the Kodachrome three-colour process allowed the production of 35mm slides. Beginning in 1938, the transparencies were returned in the now familiar card mounts.

Kodachrome Slides, 1938

Except for the introduction of colour slides, there has been no major advance in slide technology for the last hundred years.


Top of the Page 6 Reproductions

1 Introduction

2 Studying Art History

3 Photography and Art History

4 Teaching Art History

5 Magic Lanterns and Slides

6 Reproductions

7 Digital Technology

Bibliography