Hand painted magic lantern slide of Naples and Mount Vesuvius

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Before magic lantern slides were mass produced by lithographic and photographic processes, they were hand painted or hand tinted. For the former, an artist would simply paint the picture onto the glass. With tinting, an outline of the picture was printed onto the glass and a ‘colourist’ would then finish each slide by painting between the lines, a form of multiple rather than mass production but cheaper than hand painting. Slide painting goes back to the 1640s, tinting was in use from the 1820s and as late as the 1940s.

Tinting was a bit like colouring books from my childhood but they’ll never be popular again, will they, especially not for adults?

The quality of the painting or tinting depended, of course, on the skill of the artist. Some of it was dreadful, some wonderful and, as a rule, you got what you paid for.

Today’s slide is a recent Ebay purchase. It was described as a magic lantern slide of a seaside town but I recognised it as Naples with Mount Vesuvius erupting in the background. Victorians were fascinated by the Pompeii story and depictions of Vesuvius are relatively common.

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The seller had listed it with a ‘buy-it-now’ price, so I did, and it is, as I thought, a wonderful piece of original art, painted directly on the glass (and that’s not easy) by an unknown artist, probably in the 1850s. The mahogany frame is unusually large, 8 by 5 by 0.5 inches, the glass is 4 inches in diameter ….. and it has Naples written on it! This slide must have been time-consuming to paint and would have been very expensive when new. The Ebay price …… just £10. 

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