Mediated Visions of Life: An Archaeology of Microscopic Theatre

  • Nele WynantsEmail author
Part of the Avant-Gardes in Performance book series (AGP)


Since its inception, the microscope fulfilled a dual function as an instrument of scientific research and as an amusement device lending itself to playful enquiry. In the early nineteenth century, with the invention of the projection microscope—a magic lantern combined with a microscope—microscopy developed fully as a public spectacle well suited to show business. The projection microscope brought minuscule presences, invisible to the naked eye, into the room on a human scale, almost as if it had taken physical form. Starting from the contemporary work of video artist Sarah Vanagt, this chapter more specifically proposes a media-archaeological perspective on microscopic theatre, and discusses the way in which this historically informed work reflects on the history of vision and the role of science, media, and technology in our contemporary moment.


  1. Altick, Richard. 1978. The Shows of London. Cambridge: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  2. Benjamin, Walter. 1968. Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken.Google Scholar
  3. ———. [1935] 2008. Het kunstwerk in het tijdperk van zijn technische reproduceerbaarheid. In Het kunstwerk in het tijdperk van zijn technische reproduceerbaarheid en andere essays, trans. Henk Hoeks, 7–45. Amsterdam: Boom.Google Scholar
  4. Brooker, Jeremy. 2013. The Temple of Minerva. Magic and the Magic Lantern at the Royal Polytechnic Institution, London 1837–1901. London: The Magic Lantern Society.Google Scholar
  5. Crary, Jonathan. 2001. Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  6. Creese, Mary R.S. 2004. Ward, Mary. In Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century British Scientists, ed. Bernard Lightman, vol. 4, 2102–2103. Bristol: Thoemmes Continuum.Google Scholar
  7. During, Simon. 2002. Modern Enchantments. The Cultural Power of Secular Magic. Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Dvořák, Tomáš. 2013. Philosophical Toys Today. Teorie vědy/Theory of Science 35 (2): 173–196.Google Scholar
  9. Fyfe, Aileen, and Bernard Lightman, eds. 2007. Science in the Marketplace. Nineteenth-Century Sites and Experiences. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  10. Gage, Simon Henry. 1908. The Annual Address of the President: The Origin and Development of the Projection Microscope. Transactions of the American Microscopical Society 28: 5–60. JSTOR. Scholar
  11. Gould, Charles. 1839. The Companion to the Compound, Oxy-Hydrogen and Solar Microscopes Made by W. Cary, 181, Strand. London: W. Cary.Google Scholar
  12. Heering, Peter. 2008. The Enlightened Microscope: Re-enactment and Analysis of Projections with Eighteenth-Century Solar Microscopes. British Journal for the History of Science 41 (3): 345–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hermann Fürst von Pückler-Muskau. 1833. Tour in England, Ireland, and France in the Years 1828, 1829: With Remarks on the Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants, and Anecdotes of Distinguished Public Characters. Philadelphia: Carey and Lea.Google Scholar
  14. Lachapelle, Sofie. 2015. Conjuring Science: A History of Scientific Entertainment and Stage Magic in Modern France. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lightman, Bernard. 2007. Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Morus, Iwan Rhys. 2007. ‘More the Aspect of Magic than Anything Natural’: The Philosophy of Demonstration. In Science in the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century Sites and Experiences, ed. Aileen Fyfe and Bernard Lightman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  17. Nadis, Fred. 2005. Wonder Shows: Performing Science, Magic, and Religion in America. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Roberts, Phillip. 2016. Building Media History From Fragments: A Material History of Philip Carpenter’s Manufacturing Practice. Early Popular Visual Culture 14 (4): 319–339. Scholar
  19. ———. 2017. Philip Carpenter and the Convergence of Science and Entertainment in the Early-Nineteenth Century Instrument Trade. Spring 2017, Sound and Vision.
  20. Rossell, Deac. 2001. Huygens, Christiaan. In Encyclopaedia of the Magic Lantern, ed. David Robinson, Stephen Herbert, and Richard Crangle, 142. London: The Magic Lantern Society.Google Scholar
  21. Ruestow, Edward G. 1996. The Microscope in the Dutch Republic: The Shaping of Discovery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Snyder, Laura J. 2015. Eye of the Beholder. Johannes Vermeer, Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek, and the Reinvention of Seeing. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  23. Stafford, Barbara Maria, and Frances Terpak. 2001. Devices of Wonder: From the World in a Box to Images on a Screen. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute.Google Scholar
  24. Vanagt, Sarah. 2017. PLAKFILM, unpublished financing application for The Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF), Brussels.Google Scholar
  25. Vandevelde, A.J.J., and W.H. Van Seters. 1925. Verslagen en mededeelingen der Koninklijke Vlaamsche Academie, 171–172. Gent: Koninklijke Vlaamsche Academie voor Taal- en Letterkunde.Google Scholar
  26. Vanhoutte, Kurt, and Nele Wynants. 2017. On the Passage of a Man of the Theatre Through a Rather Brief Moment in Time: Henri Robin, Performing Astronomy in Nineteenth Century Paris. Early Popular Visual Culture (Special Issue on Spectacular Astronomy) 15 (2): 152–174. Scholar
  27. Wade, Nicholas J. 2004. Philosophical Instruments and Toys: Optical Devices Extending the Art of Seeing. Journal of the History of the Neurosciences 13 (1): 102–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Free University of Brussels (ULB)BrusselsBelgium
  2. 2.University of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium

Personalised recommendations