Magic lantern projectors

Photograph by Egmont Contreras, ACMI.

Early magic lantern projections depicted cautionary religious and supernatural scenes, like sinners roasting in Purgatory and Death wielding a scythe. Luckily, magic lanterns weren’t used only by clergymen but also by a wide variety of entertainers and educators in homes, theatres and universities. While performers told jokes and fairytales, travelling showmen unveiled exotic locations, scientists revealed the latest discoveries and charlatan magicians spooked audiences with dancing skeletons.

Magic lanterns were made in all shapes and sizes from materials as diverse as biscuit tins and brass to mahogany and nickel. They were even mass-produced as children’s toys in the 19th century.

Related articles

Related works

On display until:

ACMI: Gallery 1

16 February 2031


Appears in


Cautionary tales and magic lantern projectors

Early magic lantern projections depicted cautionary religious scenes and fairytales, just like cinema did in its infancy.



27136 times

Please note: this archive is an ongoing body of work. Sometimes the credit information (director, year etc) isn’t available so these fields may be left blank; we are progressively filling these in with further research.

Cite this work on Wikipedia

If you would like to cite this item, please use the following template: {{cite web |url= |title=Magic lantern projectors |author=Australian Centre for the Moving Image |access-date=10 May 2021 |publisher=Australian Centre for the Moving Image}}