When we first found this print, we were quite impressed by its reduced size (diameter is about 3 inches), its round shape and the emphasis given to the image deep perspective.
The details delicacy has been misleading many of our visitors: at first glance it may appear as a hand painted miniature on paper.
But if you look cautiously, you will discover that this precious cathedral or church interior has been printed in colors. The only adjustment made by hand consists in some highlighted areas with gum arabic.
Besides a pure decorative function, what other purpose might such a small print have had?
Was it possibly a book illustration poorly cut out by some ‘wretch’? It could be, but usually – not always – this kind of pictures was accompanied by captions.
Was is part of a series of thematic engravings that, when exhibited together, would have produced a wonderful decorative result? That seems plausible, but engravings are generally – also in this case, that’s not always true – characterised by larger dimensions in order to be easily seen within reasonable distance.
Was it then a performance of mastery by an expert engraver? I would not discard this hypothesis either.
As for any item exhibited in our shop we conducted a research and have finally figured out the right answer.
It’s a color lithography on a disk of paper dating back to 1849 meant to be used on a Polyorama Panoptique. It was a sort of rudimentary slide that had to be inserted in a viewer which, thanks to a special combination of lens, lights and perspectives, would have enhanced the sense of depth producing a quite realistc effect.
It’s not just that: thanks to the highlighted area with gum arabic and to expertly applied collages, it was possibly to obtain a daytime and nocturnal version of the same image.
But what exactly was the Polyorama Panoptique? This tool, a simpflication of 18th century camera obscura and of Daguerre’s diorama, was first patented by a toy manufacturer and optician, Pierre Henri Amand Lefort, on February, 21st 1849.
Before him, the parisian illustrator Auguste Louis Régnier had developed a prime method to obtain “dioramique” images, a process that was then took up and simplified by Lefort.
Lefort used double sided lithographies and a thin paper layer on which he could stick small colored pieces of paper. Images were sometimes perforated, as in 18th century, and then framed with wood or metal.
Given the frailty of paper, we preferred to protect the cathedral (or church) interior with a nice frame of the same age.
Before ending this article, I would like to leave you with one question: is there among you readers someone who can actually identify to which cathedral or church this interior belongs to?
The architecture and our istinct tell us that it may be a French site, for example the Basilique Saint-Eutrope de Saintes presents many analogies. But no…this ain’t the right answer yet!
It could definitely be an invented place as well, in any case many thanks in advance to anyone who’s willing to help! 🙂