Toward the end of 18th century some entrepreneurial entertainers in Europe, keenly aware of the popularity of the peepshow as a form of street entertainment, were considering how to take advantage of this public desire for visual entertainment and stage it indoors on a grand scale. It wouldn’t be long before a host of indoor entertainments were created that allowed the public to be transported to foreign lands, and which created visual illusions of transforming and moving images existed. The most successful of these entertainments, but not the only ones, were the panorama and diorama.
One of the first commercially successful attempts to creating large scale indoor optical entertainment was Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon. De Loutherbourg, who had worked in the lighting department of the Drury Lane Theatre, used his theatrical skills to create in his house a small lush theatre with a framed stage on which he exhibited five transforming scenes. The impact on the audience was enhanced by the clever use of lighting, augmented by sounds and mechanical props. De Loutherbourg opened his doors in 1781 and his shows drew large, enthusiastic audiences (the room could accommodate 135 people). Less grand but still popular was the cosmorama, which was really no more than an indoor version of the peepshow. Cosmoramas were set up with multiple viewing positions along a wall. At each viewing point one looked through a convex lens (which enlarged) at an image below. These may have been simple shows, but they proved popular as well..
But of all the “oramas” that were to become popular viewing exhibitions the two with the greatest impact were the panorama and the diorama. Robert Barker, a portrait painter, was trying to work out in the mid 1780s how he could capture a total view ofEdinburgh and create a way of showing it which gave the viewer a feeling of being there. His idea was to create a huge continuous 360 degree painting and have it placed on the inner surface of a rotunda to be viewed by an audience. He named his giant images, some as large as 10,000 square feet, panoramas (Greek for “pictures without boundaries”) He needed to work out where to place the audience and how the audience could enter the room as to not disturb the illusion. He did his first show in Edinburgh in 1788 and a year later moved it to London; Barker opened doors to London’s specially built panorama in 1793. It was an immediate hit. Robert Fulton would take the idea to France and then to America
In 1822 the panorama was joined by another form of large scale, indoor entertainment, the diorama. The diorama was created by Louis Jacques Dagueerre (whose name is more associated with early photographic history and the technique he developed which still carries his name the Daguerreotype) and Charles Marie Bouton. The diorama, first opened in Paris in 1822 and then in London in 1823, was different than the panorama. The diorama was primarily made up of transformational images, which harkened back to the work of De Loutherbourg. Edward Orme was the first to create transparent prints around 1794. Soon the English publisher Ackerman published a series of transparent images and in 1807 Orme wrote and published his book An Essay on Transparent Print, and on Transparencies in General describing and illustrating how to create transparent images. Daguerre created mamouth, theatre sized transparencies. Unlike the panorama, where the scene revolved, with the diorama, the audience was stationary and then were rotated to expose a second view.
The audience was first occupied by a view of a large scene on a painted canvas. Gradually, often very gradually, through clever lighting the audience would see the scene either change from day to night or completely transform. The view of a single scene and its transformation could take up to 20 minutes to maximize the effect. Then the audience would be rotated and exposed to a second, different view for another experience. Daguerre and Bouton, initially satisfied with effects producing day and night views of the same scene moved to more elaborate transforming images. This was achieved by painting the composite effect on the two sides of a thin calico sheet in transparent and opaque colors and by illuminating the pictures alternatively by reflected and transmitted light.
Like the panorama, the diorama, was a huge success, tapping an eager public appetite for a view of the wider world, and their appetite to be entertained and amazed by optical transformations. So popular were these forms of entertainments that by the second half of the 19th. century a number of toys based on the panorama and dioramas were sold for parlor entertainment..