Octagonal magic lantern

The lantern was bought by Giovanni Poleni for the Cabinet of Physics of Padua University between 4 August1753 and 18 August 1755.

Date: 3rd quarter 18th century


This peculiar model of magic lantern is made of an octagonal wooden tower, with an iron sheet chimney.  Inside, there are a mirror and an oil lamp. Thanks to the two metallic rods placed at the basis of the lantern, one can make both the mirror and the lamp slide, independently from one another. This peculiarity, which was already proposed by Willem ’s Gravesande in his Physices Elementa Mathematica, enlightens the didactical use of the instrument. A plano-convex lens is mounted in the brass tube fixed to the lantern. Thanks to two screws inserted along the tube, it is possible to make the lens slide in order to focus the image. Another convergent lens is inserted in the wall of the lantern, just in front of the tube. The glass slides were inserted within a wooden frame fixed to the tube; they were enlightened by the light reflected by the mirror and their image was thus projected and magnified.

Poleni described this lantern in his catalogue (Indice delle Machine) as “A second magic lantern, with a different structure with respect with the first one, which bears N. 265. This second magic lantern is built like an octagonal wooden tower with its chimney 24 ½ inches. It has its metallic concave mirror and two crystal lenses […]. To be used, it is equipped with N. 30 boards of figures: and there are about N. 100 figures, many of which mobile”.

Materials and techniques: wood/brass/iron/speculum

Dimensions: height 49 cm, width 70 cm, length 70 cm

Related scholars: Giovanni Poleni (b.1683 - d.1761). Professor of Experimental Philosophy at the University of Padua from 1739 to 1761.

Keywords: optics, pre-cinema

University of Padua, Museum of the History of Physics

Cat. Number: 88


  • Giovanni Poleni, Indice delle macchine, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana di Venezia, mss.it., cl. III, 54-55 = 4969-4970, cl. IV, 626 = 5488, 636 = 5497 [It was written by Giovanni Poleni from 1740 to 1761]