1822

Daguerre

Esther Bang
Apr 7, 2017 · 4 min read

Diorama

Even though the panorama shocked spectators with the reproduction of the real world around us, the panorama also drew attention to the lack of motion in the painted subject matter.

The Diorama was a new invention by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre and Charles Marie Bouton — both assistants to Pierre Prevost, a highly regarded panorama painter of that time — that imitated movement in a painted scene.(1) Daguerre would also later be the inventor of the first successful photographic process — the daguerreotype.(2) The first location of Daguerre’s Diorama, which housed two giant transparencies measuring 70 feet by 45 feet, opened in Paris in 1822 (Figure 1). This was followed a year later with a British patent by Daguerre’s brother -in-law, John Arrowsmith, resulting in a second location in Regent Park, London in 1824 (Figure 2).(3) Like the panorama, a specific type of architecture was required to house the diorama transparencies: the ground floor plans revealed that the Parisian diorama had three wings while its London counterpart only had two wings (Figure 3 and Figure 4). Why the third wing? To prepare for new pictures for the show.(4)

Figure 1: Daguerre’s Diorama in Paris (1822) (Image Source: Oettermann, Stephan. The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium. New York: Zone, 1997. Print.)
Figure 2: The Diorama, Regent’s Park, London (1824) (Image Source: Oettermann, Stephan. The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium. New York: Zone, 1997. Print.)
Figure 3: Daguerre’s Diorama in Paris (1822) (Image Source: Oettermann, Stephan. The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium. New York: Zone, 1997. Print.)
Figure 4: The Diorama cross-section and plan, Regent’s Park, London (1824) (Image Source: Oettermann, Stephan. The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium. New York: Zone, 1997. Print.)

As with the panorama, the visitors would enter the diorama’s building through a darkened tunnel in anticipation of a new spatial experience. These visitors would then emerge into a round room, much like a theater with seats and boxes. After the visitors haven taken their seat and let their eyes adjust to the new darkness, the curtain would then draw up and, through a proscenium of 24 by 21 feet, reveal a picture about 40 feet away. The size of the proscenium was calibrated to conceal from the viewers the edges of the transparencies and the complicated lighting mechanisms.(5) The depth of the tunnel behind the aperture was impossible to gauge by the spectator, exaggerating the dramatic depth effect of the picture. (6)

Once the image was revealed, the lighting show began and with it — the illusion of motion. Lamps situated in front and behind the transparency would create changing lights through the different shades, colored filters, and other techniques used to mimic the passage of time (Figure 5). This lighting effect could condensed a 12 hour time frame of dawn to dusk into 15 minutes, as seen in Figure 3. Once the effect of dusk had settled into the space, the bell would ring and the curtains would come down, signaling the end of one experience. At this point, the platform that holds up to 310 spectators would slowly rotate to the other wing to prepare the spectators for the next picture.(7) The same procedures would be repeated to create a different experience of motion.

Figure 5: Daytime vs Nighttime effects of The Diorama

The Diorama operated daily from 11 am to 4pm — the brightest hours of the day. Contrary to what one would expect from matinee pricing, the tickets were expensive, costing two francs for a general admission ticket and 3 francs for a loge or box seat ticket.(8)

Daguerre’s Diorama was hugely successful with his strategic technical improvements: the rotating platform, the picture tunnel, and lavish lighting effects which changed the nature of the experience between image and spectator.(9) The representation of movement on a two dimensional surface was a magical experience that people could not get enough of.

  1. Oettermann, Stephan. The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium. New York: Zone, 1997. Print. p.77.
  2. Ibid, p.77.
  3. Ibid, p.77.
  4. Ibid, p.77.
  5. Ibid, p.77.
  6. Ibid, p.78.
  7. Ibid, p.79.
  8. Ibid, p.79.
  9. Ibid, p.79.