Compare with Feu Pyrique


Curriculum Vitae Englisch or Dutch



Peepshow . boîte d'optique . xi yang jing . rarekiek
mondo nuovo

"What the butler saw" / optical viewing boxes and their images / 3-D day & Night effects


Thomas' Optical Raree Show "Oh. You shall see vat you shall see" Rare views from the new world

Popularizing the copper engravings of Giambattista Piranesi 1720 - 1778

Rome - Piazza del Popolo - Piranesi

Rome - Piazza del Popolo
mouve mouse over

From the Rarekiek, 17th. & 18th. Century optical entertainment, to the birth of Television
"Ha ha ! Messieurs & Mesdames ! daar sien um al weeromme de Savoiaarte, in de ordre parfaitement,
met de Rarekiek, met de nouvelles Pieces, o so mooi ! fraai curieus ! Keeve wel akte !

The urge to create the artificial illusion of depth, as seen in the stereoscope (forerunner of the view master), is very old. On the stereoscope page this illusion is explained and illustrated by stereo-viewers from different sources. Hyperlinks leads you to additional pages with stereo photographs, different techniques & subjects. Although stereoscopy was a "novelty" in the 19th. Century, the artificial illusion of depth was not new at all!
18th. Century projection techniques where able to conjure up spectacular 3-dimensional ghosts by Phantasmagoria techniques.

Even the 17th. Century perspective boxes (see Samuel van Hoogstraten), besides many other wondrous effects, where able to surprise their viewers with "realistic" true life images in artificially constructed boxes using well thought-out anamorphic principles. See stereoscope page for a short introduction history on the 17th. Century perspective box. The use of these clever anamorphic painting techniques is the main reason for the supremacy of the 17th. Century perspective box
. See anamorphic art explained.

Another wondrous viewing box is known as the Feu Pyrique. Unlike the Peepshow box for an individual viewing expierience, the 18th. & 19th. century Feu(x) Pyrique is viewed by a group of people at the same time and shows animated light effects through the cut-out parts of opaque and partly transparent changeable decors. Most Feu Pyrique are relatively small and often seen in toy versions but huge versions (120 cm and more) do exist.

The present page, however, confronts us with the more modest 18th. Century descendant of the ingenious 17th. anamorphic perspective box: The PEEPSHOW and his wondrous day & night prints.

The PEEPSHOW box (
Boite d' OPTIQUE France - rarekiek Netherlands - mondo nuovo / NOVO Italy - GUCKKASTEN Germany) is much more simpler but also able to create the depth illusion through viewing architectural & topographical engravings with linear perspective via a large bi-convex lens using our two eyes. The "Tilburg Rarekiek" has two lenses for two onlookers at the same time. The bi-convex increase the 3-D illusion of the often exaggerated perspective views, (Vue d' Optique).  Since every colour has his own focusing point, the chromatic aberration of the bi-convex also help in creating a surprising depth experience in details. Red, for example, is often seen "floating" above the lines of an engraving, an astonishing effect! The image below illustrate a typical, late 17th. Century or early 18th., Century Rarekiek made in oak.

Early Netherlandish Rarekiek made in oak. Rollover image.
(Compare a Rarekiek box with a Zograscope
(Compare a Rarekiek box with a Television)

The main cause however for the illusion of depth, seen and experienced in a vintage Peepshow, is the artificially often exagerated perspective of these hand coloured engravings seen through one bi-convex lens with a large diameter and small dioptre. Opposite to today's frequent presentation and use, vue d'optiques are NOT made for direct viewing withouth optical aid and certainly NOT for mounting in a passe-partout and frame. The latter, unfortunately, is often seen.

Correct use of these optical prints can create wondrous "day and night effects" combined with a 3-D true life illusion. Views meant to be seen in a Rarekiek (Dutch word for Peepshow) are often pierced in appropriate details (windows, street lights, moon & stars, artificial fire work..., etc.) and ameliorated with coloured transparant paper for enchanting effects. The true forerunner of the dissolving effect.

Figures painted on tissue paper mounted in window openings is another most effective translucent painting technique to ameliorate these views.

Opaque cut-out details, mounted on the rear of a print, can conjure up romantic "against the light" effects, even in views without pierced parts. See the
"Royal Palace of Windsor".

For the "Myriade of effects" seen in these vintage perspective prints, I own thanks to Jan Meeremans, founder of MYRIADE, who offered me the use of his digital photo studio to enable me in reproducing these prints and unveil, partly, their enchanting effects online.
Beside many other tasks, MYRIADE specialize in the digitalization of historical visual media for archives, museums & collections through high quality scans and photographs. For further information, please contact Jan Meeremans.

Le Mont de la St. Turqe à Frankfort
In analogy with the above explained optical peepshow boxes (showing a view of far-away and unknown places), the internet (and intranets') are today's peepshow and window to the world, offering a wealth of images and information only by looking 'into' our monitor.

The ancient & well known
18th. Century architectural copper engravings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi where another type of 'window to the world' to unveil historical architectural subjects as seen in his 'Veduti di Roma'. The latter series of large format engravings where often popularized in optical views for the peepshow box as can be seen in the image of 'Piazza del Popolo' on top of this page. See also the exhibition in The Getty & MSK Gent & U-Gent.

The above
18th., Century Rarekiek however worked with candles as a light source. The light emission of 4 candles was sufficient to conjure-up enchanting night scenes.
To ameliorate the effect a sky tromp l'oeil is added on top.

Two double candle holders in iron where used to illuminate the vue d' optiques from behind when day light was not available.

For night effects during the day, the candle holders where removed to enable daylight illuminating the engravings from behind in a closed box.

For the latter use, a removeable sliding shutter door is provided. See further.

Removeable coloured sky tromp l'oeil, used for most topographical & architectural scenes.

The remaining colours are original and only gently washed during restoration to remove dust and make them visible.

The sky tromp l'oeil ameliorate the effect by blocking sight on the lid. It also help in creating the depth illusion when viewing an image inside the Rarekiek..
The Rarekiek is constructed telescopic to make it collapsible for slightly increasing or reducing the optical enlargment by the aid of the bi-convex lenses.

The first image illustrate the Rarekiek at his maximum length. On the left we see the Rarekiek at his minimum size.

During his long life, the rarekiek was send as a cargo from Groningen to Tilburg (Netherlands)
In the latter town, the peepshow box was found.

A dispatch lable, on top of the lid, reveals this event which is part of the history of this rare box, presumably of Dutch origin.
Move mouse over image to see dispatch lable.

Optische Kasten

Below are two, superimposed, images of the "Tilburg Rarekiek". Rollover image. The position of the coloured sky tromp l'oeil is clearly visible on top of the box.

The removeable sliding shutter door is partly open for demonstration purpose. Both candle holders hang inside, recognizeable by their hooks for hanging. A vue d' optique is placed inside.

On the left, a detail of a printed toy panorama Magic Lantern slide is shown.
Two girls are looking into a Peepshow or Rarekiek.

The Tilburg Rarekiek - Move mouse over to see in profile, with lid
Read a Dutch text on the Rarekiek, made available online by Prof. Harmsen, University of Leiden.
"Oh. You shall see vat you shall see"

Take a PEEP inside the Tilburg Rarekiek and discover the enchanting world of 18th. Century optical entertainment.

Peepshows where presented by itinerant showman, travelling from village to village to amaze their onlookers.

Even today, the "old-Fashioned" Rarekiek is able to astonish the modern public spoilt by high-tech multimedia devices.

Deception and illusion, as seen in modern technology of today, has several mature 17
th. Century & 18th. Century precursors.

Without doubt, the vintage peepshow is one of them.
Move mouse over to see the rear side.

The bottom of the "Tilburg Rarekiek" clearly unveils how the telescopic mecanisme works.
The disign of the box is very simple but most effective to use.

More information about other Peepshows will be appreciated.
Please send e-mail to

I hope you will enjoy some of the "Tilburg Rarekiek" views below,
conjuring-up their enchanting night effects.

Click on the bottom of the Rarekiek to see a lithograph depicting a
domestic Magic Lantern show.
The projected image of the lantern on the sreen shows a Harlequin demonstrating his Rarekiek.

xi yang jing
Peepshow Box Tradition in China

On the left we see an old photograph depicting a Peepshow very similar compared to the today's Peepshow in Hefang Street

According to several online 'SKYPE' contacts with Chinese people based in Hangzhou, the depicted apparatus is owned by a family who kept this itinerant tradition since a very long time.

Besides the importance of this image the finding illustrate the often surprising possibilities of the internet.
The image was received after less than half an hour 'first time contact' with a very helpful Chinese woman.


'Day & Night' Views from Holland
La splendeur de la lumière ne peut exister sans ombres*

De Gemeene Buurt - De Hollandse Straat (Stage decor in the first theatre, Leidseplein) Amsterdam

Buyten Hof, Den Haag

Gezicht van het Groot Hooft der stad Dordrecht - 1768

Voorhoutkaai Den Haag

Het oude mannen en vrouwen huis - Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Oude Wal
Day & Night views from other enchanting places
Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae

Porte del Canale Grande verso il ponte dei Ebra di Venezia

Westminster Church

Triumphhal Jules Cesar

A View of the Royal Palace of Windsor - 20 August 1751 (Vue d'Optique with transparent & shadow effect)

Place Royal de Nancy

Royal Exchange hal London - 1781

Palais du Prince de Liechtenstein

View at Nancy


The old Gabelles de Jules Cesar à Vienne

Un Lac et Village de la Cochinchine

Chateau de Meudon


Academie Vienne



The 'elegant' Zograscope
(Compare a Zograscope with a Rarekiek box)


The above Peepshow images are transparent views able to conjure-up 'day and night effects' due to pierced and cut-out parts in the engravings, backed with colored tissue paper.
Suchlike views where made especially for viewing inside a Peepshow box.

However, these peepshow views and boxes are rare.
More common are the colored optical 'vue d 'optiques' with no further amelioration to heighten the artificial illusion of depth.

The apparatus to view suchlike, only daylight, views is known as the Zograscope.
The horizontal placed view is seen through a bi-convex lens via an inclined mirror.

The typical three dimensional illusion, due to the perspective of the views and the lens, is the same as seen in the Peepshow box.

Unfortunately, these views are often found framed in a passe-partout for commercial reasons which makes them not suitable for their often spectacular purpose.

Identical views can be found in the two different versions.
Transparent views for 'day and night' effects in the Peepshow or opaque colored views for indirect viewing with the elegant Zograscope.

Both versions of the apparatus and images are equally interesting for the media archeologist.



Zograscope collection Veerle Van Goethem .




Sant-Ulrich (hand colored opaque view)


A dog's peep into the Mutoscope (Circa 1900)    
The Peepshow viewing tradition in Television

Click image to see a peepview television.
From Peepshow to the Birth of Television in England: 1923

The first photographical moving images started in the peepshow tradition, looking through a narrow opening to watch by illusion a reconstruction of the world.

This peepshow tradition as seen in the above apparatus was also used in the Mutoscope, Kinetoscope, etc., prior to the Lumiéres, bringing cinema into popular parlors for individual viewing.

Even the first vintage television sets where suitable only for few onlookers. This however was due to technical limitations of the scanning discs based on the 'Nipkow principle' mechanical television sets.

Click on the image left to see a suchlike early mechanical television peepview apparatus, an amateur build model by Hewel, who is seen looking into his Televisor in 1930, two years before the BBC started commercial broadcasting based on this Nipkow disc standard, improved by Baird.

The postcard on the left shows a Pierrot with his dog looking-in a wooden Mutoscope. Although a romantic interpretation, it clearly shows the long tradition of the peepshow box applied here to view moving images prior to film and television.


May 2006 - Hangzhou
Hefang Street - The Peepshow in Hangzhou, China.
Even today the original Peepshow still exist. This photograph is taken by a friend on the first of May 2006 in Hefang Street Hangzhou, China.

The drawing on top of the peepshow depict the viewing apparatus in use on the photograph.

Itinerant Peepshowmen are often seen in smaller towns in China.

This huge peepshow has 5 peepholes to enable 5 people to enjoy the hidden world of an old but still vivid tradition.

With thanks to Peter.

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