Video as Magic lantern

As well as “noises, sounds and sweet airs”, Shakespeare’s play contains elements of magic and theatrical illusion. To echo these themes, the performance also features a video as magic lantern – an early type of image projector developed in the 17th century. The video images will be created by visual artist Andrew Bolton.

Sample images from the production:

ferdinand 2

sleeping lie

Scene 7 - Miranda

lantern 2

History of the magic lantern

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

The earliest reference known to anything like a projection lantern is from Liber Instrumentorum by Giovanni de Fontana, published c.1420. The illustration shows a man holding a lamp or lantern, and on the wall is a large projected picture of the devil. The detail of the lantern shows the outline of a small image of the devil. Fontana describes it as ‘a nocturnal appearance for terrifying viewers’.

About 160 years later, Giovanni Battista della Porta published Magiae Naturalis Libri Viginti, in which he described the ancient art of projecting mirror writing. The book was translated into English as Natural Magick in 1658.

Athanasius Kircher, a German Jesuit priest, published Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae, in which he improved on della Porta’s work, including arrangements to project using sunlight or candle light, using a convex lens as an objective to focus the images.

Kircher is one of the most famous names in the history of the lantern and is often mistakenly credited with its invention. A later edition of his Ars Magna… from 1671 includes illustrations of magic lanterns projecting pictures.

All over Europe, people such as Dutch astronomer, mathematician and physicist Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) and the Danish mathematician Thomas Rasmussen Walgensten started to develop working models of Lantern Projectors.Huygens had a lantern at least as early as November 1659.

Huygens was born in The Hague into a wealthy and comfortable home. His father, a distinguished poet and well-known diplomat, was a friend of many respected European scholars. Rene Descartes was a frequent visitor, and through his influence Huygens developed a firm belief that science could in principle explain all natural phenomena. He constructed the first high-resolution telescope, by perfecting a method of grinding lenses, he designed a special kind of pendulum and used it to produce the first accurate clock, and most famously of all he developed the mathematics to describe the wave nature of light and its propagation through space. Many researchers are coming to the conclusion that if there was one inventor of the Magic Lantern in a usable form then it was most probably Christiaan Huygens.

Thomas Walgensten was the first person to use the term Laterna Magica. Walgensten not only realised the technical and artistic possibilities of the Magic Lantern, but also its economic potential, travelling round Europe demonstrating and selling them.


Phantasmagoria was a form of theatre which used a modified magic lantern to project frightening images such as skeletons, demons, and ghosts onto walls, smoke, or semi-transparent screens, frequently using rear projection. The projector was mobile, allowing the projected image to move and change size on the screen, and multiple projecting devices allowed for quick switching of different images. Invented in France by a Belgian physicist in the late 18th century, it gained popularity through most of Europe (especially England) throughout the 19th century.

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