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I PHANTASMAGORIA INTRODUCTION -
THE MOISSE FANTASCOPE DISCOVERY
REALITY TECHNIQUES DURING THE FRENCH REVOLUTION AND THE
EARLY 19TH CENTURY
The Moisse Fantascope and slides found a new permanent
home and resides in the International
Media Museum / IMM - QMA Qatar.
The museum is scheduled to open in a few years.
Although one would expect
paper and cardboard accessories in this context, none where found. Most
likely they where burned in the same fire where several years ago a friend,
Rik Soenen, found a partially destroyed daguerreotype, shown in the left
This photograph nolonger had
a visible image because it was thrown away and scorched
in a rubbish fire during the first cleaning-up operation
after the castle’s change of ownership.
After a hopeless effort to clean the daguerreotype using
the Thio-Ureum* method, the black layer disappeared and
revealed an extremely faint image of a woman wearing a
Presumably this is the same woman as seen on one of the
painted portraits found in the castle.
Ironically, the daguerreotype revealed only a “ghostly”
image due to its tragic ill-treatment, and therefore
fits in quite well to our topic of discussion! The fate
of more fragile material, for example, cardboard white
shadows and cardboard projection-decors (backgrounds)
needs no further explanation given such "hell-like"
(*) This daguerreotype restoration method is abandoned
a bibliography for the Moisse Fantascope in PDF format
Fantascope is currently on display at the
in the permanent exhibition
Fantascope & accessories
was on display in
Magique et Film Peint
a temporally exhibition organized
by the Cinémathèque
Nazionale Del Cinema.
luck would have it, twenty-three wonderful hand-painted
slides survived. Among them, ten depict beautiful Phantasmagoria
subjects such as a Skull, a Skeleton, a Devil, and the
Bleeding Nun. These are typical
subjects of the time. The theme of the nun, for
example, was inspired by a character from one of the most
famous novels in this genre, The Monk by Lewis Matthew
Furthermore, great historic figures of the time were transformed
into fantasmagoria subjects via these handpainted slides,
for example two portraits of Bonaparte. Such historically
important figures illustrate another theme in the fantasmagoria.
Other examples are portraits of Marat, Robbespierre, Louis
XVI, Danton, etc., which where projected onto "smoke
curtains” with the help of a hidden lantern.
The technique of smoke projection will be dealt with further
in this website.
A further 4 hand-painted slides were inspired by Greek
Mythology, religion and gods (other important inspirational
sources for the fantasmagoria). for example, Hero &
Leandre, Hébé, l’Education d’Achille, l’Enlevement de
Perhaps the most spectacular projection accessorie is
a skeleton opening his tomb. The latter will be explained
further in detail.
described techniques in the subsequent Phantasmagoria
chapters are fascinating early (18th. &
19th.Century) examples of audio-visual
and olfactoric performance
in which all our senses are
manipulated in order to create a personel and unexpected
ghostly encounter far removed from the events of daily
life. To enhance these experiences, many sound effects
where created during these shows: thunder,
heavy rain, stormy
weather, the weird sound of a glass
organ, funeral bells,
and so on. Different odours where produced to give the
scene an unpleasant life-like, or even death-like, atmosphere.
Understandably, I would never call these techniques "simply"
forerunners of today’s virtual reality techniques; because
they where already full-grown and spectacular! The next
4 pages explain personal experiences with these techniques.
(an illustrated, contemporaneous,
description on phantasmagoria accessories can be read
on my Hauch's Physiske Cabinet url's,
here to see and read about
military use of the Phantasmagoria
during the tumultuous days of the French Revolution.
Find a book on Phantasmagoria Projection techniques
Visit also Paul Burns'
History of the Discovery of Cinemathography'
for information on the Moise Fantascope.
For the time and in their context, the impact of these
effects was far more radical (their very purpose was to create fear and
panic) than that engendered by today’s media. It was not uncommon for People
to start screaming, lose consciousness and flee in panic from the scene! The
left image shows reactions of people during one of
Altough, Etienne-Gaspard Robert (son) is
perhaps the most famous Phantasmagore, he certainly is not the inventor or
originator of the technique as often, wrongly stated in liturature. Rather,
he was an inginious charlatan.
Unfortunately, due to the unfamiliarity of these effects today, knowledge of
their potential is limited to a very few.