Skip navigation | Main Menu | Home | Contact Us | Accessibility | Site Help | Site Map |
A Magic Lantern

A History Of The Magic Lantern - Page 3

The Fathers of the Lantern

Projected image of the Devil
The text -"Apperentia nocturna ad terorem videntium".
About 1420

The earliest reference I can find to anything like a projection lantern is from Liber Instrumentorum by Giovanni de Fontana.  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. As translated by William Tebra, Giovanni describes it as "a nocturnal appearance for terrifying viewers" Clearly the device has no projection lens, so the image it produced would not have been very sharp, though no doubt it served its purpose. The image on the lantern is upright and the projected image is also upright, which is quite correct optically. A number of modern nursery toys work in the same way, and produce quite effective images. There is life in the simple idea yet. Although there is no particular evidence that Giovanni de Fontana invented the Magic Lantern, Willem Tebra argued very strongly in NMLJ Volume 2- Number 2, that Giovanni de Fontana "had described the real concept of a magic lantern"

Giovanni Baptista della Porta

Giovanni Baptista della Porta


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

Porta Book cover


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.

Athanasius Kircher
Athanasius Kircher

A Mystery.

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

An image from  the 1671 edition of Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae
An image from the 1671 edition of
Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae


Kircher may not have been responsible for these pictures because they show the fairly obvious fault of having no projection lens to focus the images. So in many ways they are very similar optically to Giovanni de Fontana's lamp or lantern of 1420, even to the extent that the images on the slides are upright as is the image on the screen. This is correct for this kind of lens-less projection, so I would guess that whoever drew the illustrations knew quite a bit about basic optics, even though the lens is missing.

Willem Wagenaar has suggested (NMLJ vol 1 no.3) that the illustrations show point-source projectors. Herman Hecht (NMLJ vol 6 no.1) suggested that when Kircher published the second edition of his book (1671), he had somehow to claim that he thought of the lantern first, and that his lantern was not only much better but much bigger as well. But Kircher did not publish details until 12 years after Huygens had a lantern and six years after Samuel Pepys had bought one.

Previous Page