A re-built De Loutherbourg Eidophusikon

Thursday 12th October, 2023 - Bruce Sterling

*One has to wonder if building it was cheaper than re-building it.

*It’s not the first time that the Eidophusikon was re-built!


[The eighteenth-century Eidophusikon has been variously described as a mechanical theater, a miniature stage, a diorama, a panorama, or a physiorama. Featuring lighting, mechanical motion, sound effects, architectural simulation, dramatic special effects and something akin to a storyline, the Eidophusikon would probably be described today as “multimedia” or “virtuality.”]

“Even more intriguing was the mechanical theatre of Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740-1812) which he called the Eidophusikon. Loutherbourg was born at Strasbourg, son of a miniature painter to the court of Darmstadt. Trained as a painter himself, success came quickly to him.

The spirit of the age was one of inspired inventiveness and when he arrived in London in 1771 he was introduced to David Garrick the actor manager at Drury Lane who ‘loved all art and artists’ and designed scenery for him. He was one of the first to build actual miniature stage maquettes and in love with the world of theatre he set up the Eidophusikon in 1782 at his home for public performance.

This soon had the whole London art world flocking to see it. There was a miniature stage which moved its scenery by means of pulleys and produced the illusion of changing sky effects, clouds, storms, sunrise by a moving backcloth of tinted linen lit from behind by lamps. Loutherbourg called it his ‘movable canvas’ and accompanied with telling sound effects as tiny mechanical actors appeared automatically and reenacted some such drama as Milton’s Satan arraying his troops on the Fiery Lake. His work had a lasting effect on the London stage and the art of mise en scene, for he emphasized the need of lighting and picturesque scenery.”


W. DALBERG, A German Artist, in reviving this Exhibition, (originally produced by the celebrated De Loutherbourg,) begs leave to present to the Nobility and Gentry, a description of his intended Exhibition.
The Interior will be a Model of a beautiful Classic Theatre; the dimensions of the stage, 10 feet by 12; devoted entirely for Picturesque Scenery, Panoramas, Dioramas, and Physioramas.
The following is a Programme of the Scenery:

SCENE 1. A view from the summit of One Tree Hill, in Greenwich Park, looking up the Thames to the Metropolis; on one side, conspicuous upon its picturesque eminence, will stand Flamstead House; and below, on the right, that grand mass of building, GREENWICH HOSPITAL, with its imposing Cupola, cut out of pasteboard, and painted with architectural exactness. The large group of Trees forming another division, beyond which the towns of Greenwich and Deptford, with the shore on each side stretching to the Metropolis. In the distance will be seen the hills of

Hampstead, Highgate, and Harrow; and the intermediate space will be occupied as the pool, or port of London, crowded with Shipping, each mass of which will be cut out of pasteboard, and receding in size by the perspective of their distance. On the rising of the Curtain, the scene will be enveloped in that mysterious light which is the precursor of daybreak; the mist will clear away, the picture brighten by degrees, until it assumes the appearance of a beauteous summer’s day, gilding the tops of the trees and the projections of the lofty buildings; the clouds will pass to a clear and beautiful moon-light night. To make the view as true to Nature as art will allow, the Shipping and Steam Boats will sail up and down the river.

SCENE 2. Diorama of the “Ladyes Chapel,” Southwark, with the effects of Light and Shade.

SCENE 3. The effect of a Storm at Sea, in which will be described all the characteristic horrors of wind, hail, thunder, lightning, and the roaring of the waves, with the loss of an East Indiaman.

SCENE 4. A moving Panorama of English Scenery, from Windsor to Eton, the Exhibition of which was so universally admired at the Drury Lane Theatre.

SCENE 5. A Calm, with an Italian Sea Port, in which will be represented the rising of the Moon, the Mountains, and the Water will be finally contrasted by a lofty Light House of picturesque

Source: AUTOMATA AND MECHANICAL TOYS, an illustrated history by Mary Hillier. Bloomsbury Books, London 1976, 1988. ISBN 1 870630 27 0.