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1781 __ Eidophusikon
Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740-1812)
Comment : Eidophusikon, an entertainment based on three-dimensional paintings with lighting effects, is opened in London by Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, a painter from Alsace. In the 1780's the painter and David Garrick's scenery designer, Jacques-Philippe de Loutherbourg, created a large scale miniature theatre called the Eidophusikon which allowed him to experiment in his attempt to create the perfect illusion of natural reality - scenes of sunrise, sunset, moonlight, storm and volcanoes in different parts of the world plus accompanying sound effects and music. “The stage on which the Eidophusikon was represented, was little more than six feet wide, and about eight feet in depth; yet such was the painter’s knowledge of effect, and of scientific arrangement, and the scenes which he described were so completely illusive, that the space appeared to recede for many miles, and the horizon seemed as palpably distant from the eye as the extreme termination of the view would appear in nature. [...] The clouds in very scene had a natural motion, and they were painted in semi-transparent colours, so that they not only received light in front, but by a greater intensity of the Argand lamps, were susceptible of being illuminated from behind. The linen on which they were painted, was stretched on frames of twenty times the surface of the stage, which rose diagonally by a winding machine. [...] To illuminate the scenes for this interesting display of nature, the ingenious projector had constructed his lights to throw their power in front of the scenes; and the plan might be tried with advantage for spectacles, and particular effects on the great stages of our magnificent theatres. The lamps on De Loutherbourg’s stage were above the proscenium, and hidden from the audience, instead of being unnaturally placed as we are accustomed to see them, by which the faces are illuminated, like Michael Angelo’s Satan, from the regions below; thus throwing on their countenance, a preternatural character, in defiance of all their well-studied science of facial passion and expression. [...] Before the line of the brilliant lamps, on the stage of the Eidophusikon, were slips of stained glass; yellow, red, green, purple and blue; by the shifting of which, the painter could throw a tint upon the scenery, compatible with the time of day which he represented, and by a single slip, or their combinations, could produce a magical effect; thus giving a general hue of cheerfulness, sublimity, and awfulness, subservient to the phenomena of his scene. This, too, might be adopted on the regular stage, were the ingenious machinists of the scene-room to set their wits to work; and at no vast expence since the improvement of lighting with gas. [..] De Loutherbourg’s genius was a prolific in imitations of nature to astonish the ear, as to charm the sight. He introduced a new art - the picturesque of sound. I can never forget the awful impression that was excited by his ingenious contrivance to produce the effect of firing off a signal of distress, in his sea storm. That appeling sound which he taht had been exposed to the terrors of a raging tempest could not listen to, even if this mimic scene, without being reminded of the heart sickening answer which sympathetic danger had reluctantly poured forth from his own loud gun - a hoarse sound to the howling wind, that proclaimed, ‘I too ! holy heaven, need that succour, I fain would lend !’. De Loutherbourg had tried many schemes to effect this, but none were satisfactory to his nice ear, until he caused a large skin to be dressed into parchment, which was fastened by screws to a circular frame, forming a vast tambourine; to this was attached a compact sponge that went upon a whalebone spring; which struck with violence, gave the effect of a near explosion, a more gentle blow, hat of a far-off gun; and the reverberation of the sponge produced a marvellous imitation of the echo from cloud to cloud, dying away into silence. The thunder was no less natural, and infinitely grand : a spacious sheet of thin copper was suspended by a chain, which, shaken by one of the lower corner, produced the distant rumbling, seemingly below the horizon; and as the clouds rolled on, approached nearer and nearer, increasing peal by peal, until following rapidly the lightnings zig-zag flash, which was admirably vivid and sudden, it burst in a tremendous crash immediately over head. To those who have not heard the sounds emitted by a large sheet of copper, thus suspended, it may appear extravagant to assert so wondrous an effect, indeed, it is not possible to describe the power of he resemblance - auricular evidence alone could convince. The waves for his stage were carved in soft wood, from models made in clay; these were coloured with great skill, and being highly vanished, reflected the lightning. Each turned on its own axis, towards the other in a contrary direction, throwing up the foam, now in one spot, now at another, and diminishing in altitude as they receded in distance, were subdued by corresponding tints. Thus the perturbed waters appeared to cover a vast space. One machine of simple construction turned the whole, and the motion was regulated according to the increasing of the storm. The vessels, which were beautiful models, went over the waves, with a natural undulation, those nearest making their courses with a proportionate rate to their bulk, and those farther off moving with a slower pace. They were all correctly rigged, and carried only such sails as their situation would demand. Those in the distance were coloured in every part to preserve the aerial perspective of the scene. The illusion was so perfect, that the audience were frequently heard to exclaim, “Hark ! that signal of distress came from that vessel labouring out these - and now from that’. The rush of the waves was effected by a large octagonal box, made of pasteboard, with internal shelves, and charged with small shells, peas, and light balls, which, as the machine wheeled upon its axis, was hurled in heaps by every turn, and being accompanied by two machines of a circular form, covered with tightly strained silk, which pressed against each other by a swift motion, gave out a hollow whistling sound, in perfect imitation of loud gusts of wind. Large silken balls passed hastily over the surface of a great tambourine, increased the awful din. The rain and hail were no less truly imitated; for the rain, a long four-sided tube was charged with small seed, which, according to the degree of its motion, from a horizontal ot a vertical position, forced the atoms in a pattering stream to the bottom, when it was turned to repeat the operation. The hail was expressed by a similar tube, on a larger scale, with pasteboard shelves, projecting on inclined planes, and charged with little beads; so, that sliding from shelf to shelf, fast or slow, as the tube was suddenly or gently raised, the imitation was perfect. One of the most interesting scenes described a calm, with a nItalian sea-port, in which the rising of the moon, with the serene coolness which it diffused to the clouds, the mountains and the water was finely contrasted by a lofty light-house, of picturesque architecture, jutting out far into the sea, upon a romantic promontory of broken rocks. The red glowing light of its spacious lantern, tinged the rippling of the water on one part of its surface, whilst the moon shed its silvery lustre on another in sweet repose. Shipping in motion added to the interest of the view; and a fleet in the offing, slowly proceeding in its course, melted into air. The clouds for this scene were admirably painted; and as they rolled on, the moon tinged their edges, or was obscured, at the will of the painter; for where he had loaded the colour to opaqueness, the transparent light of the orb could not penetrate. The clouds in front received sufficient illumination from the lamps, which were subdued by a bluish grey glass, one of the slips before described. The moon was formed by a circular aperture of an inch in diameter, cut in a tin box, that contained a powerful Argand lamp, which being placed at various distances from the back of the scene, gave a brilliant or a subdued splendour to the passing cloud, producing without any other aid, the prismatic circle with that enchanting purity which is peculiar to an Italian sky.”. (James Elmes)
French comment : Si Daguerre introduisit le mouvement ou plus exactement l’animation dans les images fixes par l’utilisation savante de la lumière, ou si l’on veut l’imitation de l’action des éléments de la nature dans un art s’apparentant au départ à la peinture, la paternité de l’idée, sinon celle des solutions techniques les plus adéquates, revient à un autre praticien du décor de théâtre, Philippe de Loutherbourg, né à Strasbourg en 1740 et devenu chef-décorateur du Théâtre-Royal de Drury Lane dans les années 1770 : il créa avec son "Eidophusikon" l’une des premières véritable machine à spectacle total. L’Eidophusikon est l’ancêtre à la fois du "Diorama" de Daguerre et des "Panoramas mobiles à effets" appelés aussi "Dioramas" par abus ou extension. En effet les images de l’Eidophusikon étaient montées sur rouleaux comme le seront ultérieurement celles des "Panoramas mobiles". Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg (le Jeune) fit sa première exposition à la Royal Academy en 1772 et fut élu comme académicien titulaire en 1781. Durant cette même année, il exposa son "Eidophusikon" ou théâtre mécanique - en précurseur des "panoramas" du XIXe siècle -, ce qui fascina Gainsborough et provoqua un vif intérêt de la part de Joshua Reynolds. (Compiled from various sources)Son inventeur, le peintre anglais Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740-1812), s’est inspiré de l’eidétique, une faculté à s’imaginer si parfaitement des objets ou des situations qu’ils semblent réels. La scène miniature (1,80 x 2,50m) qu’il ouvre à Londres en 1781 n’est pas occupée par des acteurs mais par des personnages mobiles fabriqués à l’échelle et de véritables accessoires miniatures. Son eidophusikon est un petit théâtre composé d’images peintes transparentes, rendues vivantes par une lumière colorée changeante ; une musique composée par Johann Christian Bach pour l’occasion accompagne le spectacle. Des images transparentes sont utilisées pour représenter les rideaux translucides. L’idée de Loutherbourg est étroitement liée au développement de la scène théâtrale de l’époque et il est permis de supposer qu’il avait assisté aux spectacles de décoration venus d’Italie et donnés en représentation à Paris vers 1755 qui se caractérisaient par un système d’éclairage complexe. Avec cette invention, l’illusion optique atteint alors son apogée car l’eidophusikon accorde une importance majeure aux effets de lumière et de mouvement. (Bourbaki Panorama Luzern, Illusionsgeschichten – Teil 2)
Original excerpt : « Exhibition Rooms, over Exeter' Change, Strand.(Sunday excepted) every Day will be presented at the above Rooms, A Miscellaneous Exhibition, Comprising a Series of Beautiful Pictures in Stained Glass, representing the most striking Effects of Nature ; the Works of that admired Artist Mr. Jervais, and purchased from him at a very great expence. A Collection of Mr. Dean's Transparent Paintings of Mount Vesuvius, and the Conflagrations in London during the Riots. And a Variety of novel and pleasing Optical effects in Storer's Delineators and other Instruments.To be opened for public Inspection from Eleven till Six.Admission One Shilling.And in th EVENING will be presented, that elegant and highly [...] SPECTACLE, The EIDOPHUSIKON, Invented and Painted by Mr. De Loutherbourg, In the course of which will be introduced the celebrated Scene of The Storm & Shipwreck. The other Scenes as usual. To conclude with the Grand Scene from Milton. WIth the usual Accompaniments.First Seats, 3S., Second Seats, 2S.The Doors to be opened at Seven and the Performance to begin at Hald past Seven.The Proprietors have paid the utmost Attention to the elegant Accommodation of the Company.Printed by H. Reynell, (No. 23,) Piccadilly, over the Hay-Market. » (Eidophusikon poster)
Source : Elmes, James (1825), “The Arts and Artists - or Anecdoctes and Relics of the Schools of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture”, Vol. III, London: John Knight & Henry Lacey, Paternoster Row, 1825, pp. 21-33.
Urls : http://www.deadmedia.org/notes/3/035.html (last visited ) http://www.gatsbyonline.com/main.aspx?page=text&id=30&cat=cinema (last visited ) http://www.bourbakipanorama.ch/pdf-fr/2._technique%20d'illusion.pdf (last visited )

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