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Translucent mask for phantasmagoria : skull

Étienne Gaspard Robert, known as RobertsonBeginning of the 19th century

Musée des arts et métiers

Musée des arts et métiers

During the French Revolution, Étienne Gaspard Robert, who called himself Robertson, dreamed up a phantasmagorical show combining the startling effects of electricity with those of the magic lantern. Copper figures were projected by means of a megascope. They were painted in light, matte colours and jointed with wire and rods that were blackened in order to remain invisible during the show. Robertson made walking ghosts appear. A canvas mask, made transparent by the application of wax, was lit from behind by an oil lamp, making it look as though a ghost were looming up out of nowhere. "The aim of phantasmagoria is to familiarise people with extraordinary objects," Robertson noted in his memoirs. "I have offered spectres. I will [now] make famous shadows appear." "Robespierre," wrote the Courrier des Spectacles, "comes out of his grave and tries to stand up […] lightning strikes him, reducing the monster and his grave to dust. More beloved shadows soften the scene: Voltaire, Lavoisier, Rousseau appear one after the other; holding his lantern, Diogenes looks for a man and, in order to find him, crosses the rows, so to speak, rudely frightening the ladies, much to the delight of everybody in the audience. The optical effects look so real that people think they can touch these approaching objects."

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  • Title: Translucent mask for phantasmagoria : skull
  • Creator: Étienne Gaspard Robert, known as Robertson
  • Date: Beginning of the 19th century
  • Date Created: Beginning of the 19th century
  • Location: France
  • Provenance: Musée des arts et métiers
  • Subject Keywords: Précinéma
  • Contributor: Author: Marie-Sophie Corcy
  • Credits: © Musée des arts et métiers-Cnam/photo Pascal Faligot

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