A 3D view of the Great Exhibition

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We take our view of the world for granted, we see in 3D, objects in the distance are behind and smaller than those nearer to us. However, paintings and projected images are two dimensional, so creating a real life picture on a flat surface is a bit of a problem. Up to the fifteenth century, paintings were flat, in the sense that they had no feeling of depth. The solution was ‘perspective’ which is a mathematically based science rather than an art and had to be discovered, not invented. Once it was, two dimensional imagery changed forever.

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In the search for ways to capture reality in pictures, various methods of enhancing perspective were tried, some more successfully than others. The pictures above show a device known generically as a ‘peep show’ (long before the phrase had sexual connotations) and specifically as a ‘telescopic view’. This one, from my collection, is made of hand-coloured card and was sold as a souvenir of the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, in 1851. It folds flat but when you open it and look through the viewing hole at the front, your eye is drawn through a series of scenes to a picture at the back, giving a remarkable three dimensional effect.

The first telescopic views were made in the 1820s, one was even produced in 1977 for Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee and a few artists and performers use this concept in their work today. Victorian telescopic views are rare but still have the ability to amaze and delight.

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