Zograscope, late eighteenth or early nineteenth century
As the first widely marketed optical devices for heightening the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface, zograscopes appeared initially in England in the late 1740s and soon spread across the Channel to the Continent. Specially made prints reflected onto the surface of a mirror and observed through a convex lens seemed to emulate more closely the experience of viewing a scene—be it a church in Rome or a street of shops in London—than looking at the picture directly.
Production of new vue d’optique prints dropped off substantially after the eighteenth century, though older etchings continued to be sold well into the nineteenth century, along with the optical devices to view them.
While the zograscope included in the exhibition is a modest example, it points to the wide range of offerings available on the market. In contrast, a superbly crafted instrument in the collection of Chicago’s Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum provides a much more sophisticated example. The fine inlay and ivory additions mark it as an object of refinement.
Literature: Any consideration of the zograscope should begin with Erin Blake’s important PhD. dissertation “Zograscopes, Perspective Prints, and the Mapping of Polite Space in Mid-Eighteenth-Century England,” (Stanford: Stanford University, 2000); and the articles that emerged from it: “Topographical Prints through the Zograscope,” Imago Mundi 54 (2002): 120–24; and “Zograscopes, Virtual Reality, and the Mapping of Polite Society in Eighteenth-Century England,” in New Media, 1740–1915, ed. by Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey Pingree (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003), pp. 1–29. For the optics of the device, see Jan Koenderink, Maarten Wijntjes, and Andrea van Doorn, “Zograscopic Viewing,” I-Perception 4 (May 2013): 192–206 (available online here).
Bottom Image: Unidentified maker, ca. 1850. 62.5 x 26 x 19.6 cm, made of wood, glass, and ivory (Courtesy of Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, Chicago, Illinois)