The polyorama panoptique was first sold in 1822 as a souvenir to visitors of the auditorium-size diorama designed by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851). Janet Buerger credits the French optician Lemaire with the invention of the toy viewing device. Simply constructed with a wooden frame and paper bellows, the box holds a single hand-colored lithographic slide that has been pierced with small holes and hidden additions of color, which are illuminated when the light source moves from the front to the back.
In the 1870s, the Italian opitian Carlo Ponti adapted the device for the viewing of photographic slides. Unlike Lemaire’s simple boxes, Ponti’s megalethoscopes were often resting on elaborate, carved tables or figures, like our winged lion.
Polyorama Panoptique, Paris, ca. 1850. Graphic Arts (GAX) 2010- in process