Recently I was interviewed by Chris Lane, co-founder of the Philadelphia Print Shop, for his blog, http://antiqueprintsblog.blogspot.com. If you’re interested in maps on antique prints you should visit the blog. I’m not sure when the interview will appear but I found the questions interesting and some weren’t easy to answer. One of the difficult questions was “what were four of my favorite things”, a very tough question for many collectors. I said it was easier for me to mention twenty things, rather than four, but the more I thought about it my longest sustained interest has been in prints, paintings & drawings in which there are magic lanterns and peepshows. I have written about peepshow images in my book, Peeepshows A Visual History. I am fascinated about the frequency in which peepshows and magic lanterns appeared in prints in the 18th and 19th century. It is an indication of how popular these devices must have been. Some times they appear in a straight forward representative manner, but just as often artists employed the magic lantern or peepshow as a device to make a political or social message.
I like looking at other collections to find images that I haven’t seen before. Even after more than thirty years collecting I experience the thrill of finding an image that I don’t have and frequently one I didn’t know existed. In the next few months I plan to put more images from my collection up on my site.
I thought I would start with two images that I have added to my collection in the past month. The first is a mezzotint from 1720 by the German artist, Georg Philipp Rugendas. On one level it shows a peepshow in a square. The more you look at the image the stranger it seems. At first I thought the showman must be the hatless man at the side of the peepshow engaged is some conversation with another gentleman. However the more I looked the more it seemed the boy with his left hand out standing near the straps which would have been used to carry the box from square to square is the showman, but he seems a lad himself, which would have been unusual for a showman. You can see there are two lads looking in the box and two who seemed to be fighting over whom shall take a view. Besides this it is difficult to figure out what the man who can be seen in the window is doing and the perspective behind the box is particularly flat. The first building and people across the river seem little more than an arm’s length away and yet there are two men perched on a rock with a looking glass as if they are looking far off in the distance.
The other print, much later and more modest is a colored wood engraving and is a page from a magazine, the details of which I don’t know as yet. The image, however, is one I am very familiar with. It is of a monkey giving a magic lantern show and is entitled Le Singe qui Montre La Lanterne Magique. It is one of the many fables published by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian first at the end of the 18th century as Florian Fables. The fables were over more than 140 years printed and reprinted The print illustrates the story of the monkey giving a magic lantern show. It seems the monkey was the pet, and probably the companion of the lanternist (showmen often employed pets like monkeys to drum up business when they announced their shows). While the lanternist is away the monkey decides to entertain the other animals on the farm with a lantern show. All the animals gather and he gives a show presenting the stories just as he has heard the showman do. Usually the image shows the animals in rapt attention. The story ends with the recognition that the monkey never lights the lantern, so there are no slides being projected. There are many versions of this story, each artist interpreting the fable somewhat differently.
So if you would like to see some new materials I have just added some more peepshow prints and Florian Fable images on my site.