Magic Lantern


The magic lantern is considered the main precursor of today’s cinema and was an optical device . Basically it was a dark camera , which could receive a series of images from the outside and could make them visible inside it. The magic lantern consisted of a dark chamber that had a set of lenses as well as a support that could be moved and in which painted transparencies were placed that were previously painted on glass plates. These images could be illuminated using an oil lamp .


What is the magic lantern?

The magic lantern is a visual device that preceded cinematographic apparatus and device projectors . It was a camera obscura that received images from the outside and displayed them inside with a reverse process.

  • features
  • How the magic lantern works
  • Who invented it
  • History of the magic lantern
  • How to make a


The main characteristics of the magic lantern were the following:

  • It was one of the most important projectors in the world of cinema.
  • It had the ability to project small images that were painted onto glass sheets .
  • It was widely used in colleges and schools .
  • I had a box with glasses
  • It was considered by many to be a device that could do magic .
  • During the magic lantern presentations, musicians and presenters were invited to animate the presentation that was being made.
  • It was used extensively in phantasmagoria , which was a way of doing horror theater, mainly of ghosts.

How the magic lantern works

The device works by means of a camera obscura that has several lenses and a mobile support in which a glass plate that has been previously painted is fixed . The image is illuminated by a lamp of oil . It also had an outlet for the smoke in its upper part so that the image would not lose its brightness .

Depending on the angle of the projection, the compositions of the lantern can vary, as well as the parts that compose it, which are:  panoramas, polioramas and dioramas . Depending on the amount of light and if colored transparencies are applied, the same landscape could be seen in different situations. This visual illusionism was considered magical.

In the mid-16th century, Caglioro placed a set of wheels on the lenses to enlarge and reduce the size of the images. The invention of the Argand lamp , in 1790, calcium light in 1820 and in 1860 with incandescent lamps , the light source was replaced by reducing the size of the lantern and enhancing the brightness and sharpness of the projected image.

Who invented it

The magic lantern was invented in 1600, and its inventor is believed to have been Christiaan Huygens , a Dutch scientist. The inventor was named as a true inventor in the year 1671, approximately 12 years after he invented it. Previously, Athanasius Kircher was regarded as its inventor.

History of the magic lantern

It was the oldest way of showing slides and it has a long and fascinating history . The first magic lamps were lit by candles , but as technology evolved, they were illuminated by increasingly powerful means.

The name “magic lantern” comes from the experience of the first audiences who saw devils and angels mysteriously appear on the wall, as if by magic. Even in the earliest period, renderings contained moving images, created with moving pieces of glass .

In the 18th century, the lantern was a common form of entertainment and was also used in the field of education in Europe . The “show lanthorn” was the show ‘s oldest known in the US. UU and performed in Salem, Massachusetts, on December 3, 1743, as a form of entertainment. But the light source for lanterns in this period was still weak, and as a consequence, the audience was small.

In the mid-19th century , two new forms of lighting developed, one era known as ” Limelight ” which was created by heating a piece of limestone in burning gas until it turned incandescent. It was dangerous, but it produced a light that was strong enough to project an image to thousands of people, leading to great shows. Kerosene lamps weren’t that bright, but they were so safe that they could be used by children, leading to widespread use in churches, schools, fraternal societies, and in toy lanterns. In the 20th century, electric lighting was introduced, which extended the lantern further.

How to make a

The steps to make a homemade magic lantern are as follows:

  • A lens camera camera or magnifying glass to read. This lens must be fitted with a black paper with a central hole of about 24 mm in diameter.
  • If you have a camera with a lens, you just have to place the camera in front of the projector.
  • The shutter should be left open and the back pulled out so that light can pass through the camera.
  • Attach the lens and attach it to a tube approximately 7 cm long. This tube can be made of cardboard
  • Secure the lens inside the tube .
  • Prepare the box for the magic lantern, which should be made of cardboard or wood. One side of the box should be open and the opposite side has a circle equivalent to the cardboard tube.
  • Above the box, in the line of lights, three or four one-and-a-half-inch holes are opened for ventilation and to prevent the postcards from being damaged by excessive heat . The holes should be covered with metal or wood to prevent the light from escaping.
  • Paint the entire box with black paint .

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