Friday, June 7, 2013

The Ever-Changing Landscape

I love words, and I like discovering words that are new to me.  I discovered a new, old word when I paid 50 cents for this box of replica myriorama cards at a recent estate sale:


It is a real word, although it's so archaic my computer's spell-checker keeps telling me to correct it.  Myriorama is a compound word, from "myriad" (from the Greek word for "ten thousand") and "panorama."  A variety of views.  I decided to do a little research on it. 

A scholarly article found online told me that the development of the myriorama, in the 1820s, was a spin-off of the Georgians' fascination with dioramas.  A diorama was a huge, lighted painting that gave viewers the illusion that they had entered a three-dimensional image.  An article by R. Derek Wood, The Diorama in Great Britain in the 1820s, sheds some light on what the public did for entertainment in those days, long before motion pictures -- they visited dioramas in specially-constructed buildings:

[The] aim was to produce naturalistic illusion for the public. Huge pictures, 70 x 45 feet in size, were painted on translucent material with a painting on each side. By elaborate lighting - the front picture could be seen by direct reflected light, while varied amounts and colours of light transmitted from the back revealed parts of the rear painting - the picture could ‘imitate aspects of nature as presented to our sight with all the changes brought by time, wind, light, atmosphere’. 

By light manipulation on and through a flat surface the spectators could be convinced they were seeing a life-size three dimensional scene changing with time - in part a painter’s 3-D cinema. To display such dioramas with the various contrivances required to control the direction and colour of the light from many high windows and sky-lights, as well as a rotating amphitheatre holding up to 360 people, a large specialist building was required.

The Oxford English Dictionary says, "Words ending -orama 
(from Greek 'something seen') were popular at the time for 
visual novelties and displays: cosmorama, georama, etc."

[That reminds me of the small-town grocery store sign I once saw, advertising "Squash-O-Rama" -- zucchini and crookneck squash were on sale.  But I digress.]

The myriorama was a panoramic picture on a much smaller scale than the diorama.  One website said that the myriorama was invented in France (with the lovely name tableau polyoptique) in 1823 and developed in England in 1824 (doubtless adding to the age-old tension between the two countries).  The set of myriorama cards I found at the estate sale is a replica of that 1824 creation.

The box has 16 cards, numbered in sequence; each image is different.  By lining up the cards in different orders, you can produce a great variety of landscape scenes.  Here are a couple of variations starting with Card #2, followed by three more that I selected at random:

I found another website that quotes an advertisement for this myriorama, when it was originally created:

Picturesque Scenery / Just Published, The Myriorama; or, many Thousand Views, Designed by Mr. Clark. 

The Myriorama is a movable Picture, consisting of numerous Cards, on which Fragments of Landscapes, neatly coloured, and so ingeniously contrived that any two, or more, placed together, will form a pleasing View; or if the whole are put on a table at once, will admit the astonishing Number of 20,922,789,888,000 Variations: it is therefore certain, that if a person were occupied night and day, making one change every minute, he could not finish the task in less than 39,807,888 years, and 330 days. The cards are fitted up in an elegant box, price 15s.

And we think we spend too much time in front of our computers, playing games, or using our cell phones.  Apparently myriorama addiction could be even more dangerous and time-consuming.  It looks so innocent....


This interesting website shows many antique myrioramas:

And here's a website showing how to make your own myriorama:

If you have some time, here's the article on the history of the diorama in 1820s Great Britain:

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