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Magic lantern

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Title: Magic lantern  
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Subject: Camera obscura, Katsudō Shashin, Zoetrope, Live event support, Dickens' London
Collection: Display Technology, Dutch Golden Age, Dutch Inventions, History of Film, Italian Inventions, Precursors of Photography
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Magic lantern

Magic lantern, 1818, Musée des Arts et Métiers
Magic lantern at the Wymondham Museum.
Hand-colored photographic lantern slide of the Lahore Railway Station, circa 1895

The magic lantern or Laterna Magica is an early type of image projector developed in the 17th century. It was commonly used for educational and entertainment purposes.

Contents

  • Operation 1
  • Name 2
  • Selected references 3
  • History 4

Operation

The magic lantern used a concave mirror in back of a light source to direct as much of the light as possible through a small rectangular sheet of glass—a "lantern slide"—on which was the painted or photographic image to be projected, and onward into a lens at the front of the apparatus. The lens was adjusted to optimally focus the plane of the slide at the distance of the projection screen, which could be simply a white wall, and it therefore formed an enlarged image of the slide on the screen.[1]

Apart from sunlight, the only light sources available at the time of invention in the 16th century were candles and oil lamps, which were very inefficient and produced very dim projected images. The invention of the Argand lamp in the 1790s helped to make the images brighter. The invention of limelight in the 1820s made them very much brighter. The invention of the intensely bright electric arc lamp in the 1860s eliminated the need for combustible gases or hazardous chemicals, and eventually the incandescent electric lamp further improved safety and convenience, although not brightness.[2]

The magic lantern was not only a direct ancestor of the motion picture projector, but it could itself be used to project moving images, which was achieved by the use of various types of mechanical slides. Typically, two glass slides, one with the stationary part of the picture and the other with the part that was to move, would be placed one on top of the other and projected together, then the moving slide would be hand-operated, either directly or by means of a lever or other mechanism. Chromotrope slides, which produced eye-dazzling displays of continuously cycling abstract geometrical patterns and colors, were operated by means of a small crank and pulley wheel that rotated a glass disc.[3]

History

There has been some debate about who the original inventor of the magic lantern is, but the most widely accepted theory is that Christiaan Huygens developed the original device in the late 1650s.[4] In the fifteenth century, however, Giovanni Fontana, a Venetian engineer, had already created a lantern that projected an image of a demon. Other sources credit the German priest Athanasius Kircher, who describes a device similar to a magic lantern in his book Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae.[2][5] There are possible mentions of this device associated with Kircher as early as 1646. Even in its earliest use, it was demonstrated with monstrous images such as the Devil.[1] Huygens's device was even referred to as the "lantern of fright" because it was able to project spooky images that looked like apparitions.[3] In its early development, it was mostly used by magicians and conjurers to project images, making them appear or disappear, transform from one scene into a different scene, animate normally inanimate objects, or even create the belief of bringing the dead back to life.[6]

In the 1660s, a man named Thomas Walgensten used his so-called "lantern of fear" to summon ghosts. Such uses of this early machine were not uncommon. In fact, a common setup of the machine was to keep parts of the projector in a separate, adjoining room with only the aperture visible, to make it seem more magical and scare people. By the 18th century, use by charlatans was common for religious reasons. For example, Count Cagliostro used it to "raise dead spirits"

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