Monday, September 2, 2013

The Eidophusikon

Of all the curious eighteenth- and nineteenth-century visual technologies claiming to replicate the appearance of nature -- the Diorama, the Panorama, the Moving Panorama, or the Theatre of Arts -- the Eidophusikon perhaps came closest. First shown in London's Leicester Square by the painter Philip James de Loutherborg in 1781, it was a complex apparatus, and much of its mechanism remains a subject of dispute and conjecture. Like Daguerre's later Diorama, it employed subtle lighting effects and colored filters; like Thiodon's Theatre of Arts it had miniature boats and human figures that moved by some subtle mechanism; like the moving Panorama, some of its scenery moved on rolls or scrolls. There have been many attempts to re-create it; I saw one not-terribly-successful one at the Yale Center for British Art some years ago; its over-reliance on plexiglass was a problem, I thought. A far more ambitious version was achieved by a small group at the Asutralian National University in 2005; the video of this recreation is a must-see for any enthusiasts of old media. There's also a brilliant page from the New Model Theatre showing the steps they take in construction (they've built several).

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