Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fun-O-Rama with Late 19th Century Cycloramas

Low-tech home theater entertainment was all the rage in the late 19th century.

by Stephen J. Gertz

Voyage en Afrique. Cyclorama en 22 tabeaux.
Paris, c. 1890 - 1900.
39 x 33 x 10 cm.
Manual crank at rear of box.

In the second half of the nineteenth century the development of photography and animated imagery stimulated the creativity of game and toy makers. With Magic lanterns, dioramas, shadow theaters, praxinoscopes, phenakistiscopes, polyoramas panoptiques providing inspiration all manner of optical amusements fabricated with  paper, cardboard,  and wood, and operated with varying degrees of simple mechanics, were offered as home entertainment for children and adults to enjoy.

Cyclorama boxes were amongst the most spectacular of these during the era, featuring magnificent, often chromolithographed scenes on a single sheet of paper mounted on a spool with a mechanical crank that when manually turned unrolled the scenes, either vertically or horizontally, each appearing behind a static, chromolithographed proscenium which, in some examples, had fold-out wings that when opened up simulated a full, immersive theatrical  view.

Voyage en Afrique with extended wings.

The typical cyclorama box of the period featured subject matter involving exotic travels, fantastical or actual, always curious, and definitely outside of the average person's experience. Novelty was the overarching theme.

DACIER, Mauclair (editor). Voyage autour du monde
par un petit Français. Paris, 1905.
50.5 x 40.5 x 8.3 cm.
Twenty-two tableaux.
Note crank at lower left.

These rare cycloramas, each surviving in incredibly fine condition - most unusual with paper-built amusements that were heavily used - are being offered by Paris-based Librairie Thierry Corcelle, a specialist in rare books, games, and toys, in Catalogue No. 52, Winter 2010 - 1011.

Un Voyage au fond de la mer.
Paris: L. Saussine, Editeur, 1890.
50 x 38 x 9.5 cm.
Inspired by Jules Verne's
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Cranks at left top and bottom.

Amongst the catalogue's other thirty-three "marvels to drive lovers of such wild" is a set of late-nineteenth century marionettes, each made in Sicily, Naples, Liège, or Brussels. In a stroke of delightfully sly and subversive humor or otherwise, Corcelle features one of the two Orlando furioso marionettes on the catalogue's rear wrapper.

("Succhiare me cazzo, stronzo!")

Furious, Orlando appears to sharply riposte an offense with an obscene gesture, an unintentional happy accident the result of the loss of the mad Italian cavaliere's accompanying sword.

For Booktryst readers who are devoted foodies Corcelle is making a gastronomic offer that can't be refused:

LORIOUX, Felix. Project menu (1830).
Watercolor heightened with gold, 20 x 18 cm.

Bon amusement et appétit à Booktryst loyalistes!

All images courtesy of Thierry Corcelle, with our thanks.

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