The camera obscura and the magic lantern maintained individual followings right up to the 20th century. Many of the most important characters in this story are now revealed as we see how the camera and lantern independently of each other, continue to bind the curiosities into legitimate forms of entertainment as well as aids in art. Men such as Kepler, Scheiner and Horrocks, working primarily in the study of the heavens consider the camera's uses in this and in other disciplines.  

JOHANNES KEPLER (1571 - 1630)

This Jesuit scholar, astronomer and assistant to Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) wrote about observing the sun using a room camera similar to the one described by Porta. Kepler described this event in his first published work on astronomy, 'Ad Vitellionem Paralipomena' (Supplement To Witelo, Kepler, J., Frankfurt, Germany, 1604, p51). The first occurrence of the name "camera obscura" is found in this work.

Johannes Kepler (right) (1571-1630) coined the phrase 'camera obscura'. The first occurrence of it's use is found in his 'Ad Vitellionem Paralipomena' of 1604. In 1609 Kepler suggested the use of the lens to improve the image.
Johannes Kepler Older

  1602 - 1604
  This Italian shoemaker and part alchemist came upon barium sulphide (also known as lapis solaris or bologna stone) in the town of Bologna where it was plentiful. He found that it became luminous when added to hot coals. Also known as 'sunstone', barium sulphate was phosphorus, meaning "light bearer". This term was now applied to any substance which would glow.  
JOHANNES KEPLER (1571 - 1630)
  Kepler uses the camera to observe the transit of Mercury. He would say during his life on the topic of invention . . . "I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses".

Johannes Kepler Younger 1609
JOHANNES KEPLER (1571 - 1630)

His use of the telescope in this year was the foundation for his 'Dioptrice' (Concerning Lenses, Kepler, J., Augsburg, Germany, 1611, ch.XLIII, p16) which suggested improvements to the room camera using the lens. This manuscript (Opera Omnia, Kepler, J., vol.II, p549-555) by Kepler also shows the advantage of amplified projection, biconvex (ocular) lens and inverting the image.

In Kepler's 'Dioptrice' (left) he talks of the image in the room being improved if a lens is used which would invert the image. Kepler also mentions amplifying the projection as an advantage. Dioptrice ('Concerning Lenses') was published in 1609.


This German Jesuit and pupil of Kircher designed and built what he called his "Pantograph" (also see 1611-1612) or, device for making optical copies. He illustrated this instrument in his 'Rosa Ursina Sive Sol' (Scheiner, C., Bracciano, Italy, 1630, Book II, ch.8, p107, and plate).

The next year he would observe sunspots. It is difficult to see in the image to the right, but the viewer is on the far side of the camera and has his head inserted in the device, and completing the drawing.
Illustration Of Scheiner's Pantograph
Christopher Scheiner's 'Pantograph' (above right ). The telescopic lens mounted in the front of the box (camera), can be seen extending out the window. It is believed the device was 22 metres long. The image of the sun, and sunspots were projected on the rear screen within the framework which was covered with material. Christopher Scheiner wrote his 'Rosa Ursina Sive Sol' in 1630. He illustrated this small portable camera obscura in book 2, chapter 8, and page 107 showing clearly a telescope in the aperture. Scheiner was a student of Athananius Kircher. In 1619 Scheiner shows an illustration highlighting the use of a second lens to invert the image in his 'Oculus' .

A Tent Camera Obscura 1611
JOHANNES KEPLER (1571 - 1630)

Kepler's portable camera obscura (tent) is described in a paper, 'Reliquiae Wottonianae' (1st ed., London, 1651, p413) by Sir Henry Wotton, to lord Francis Bacon. This is one of the earliest English language descriptions given to the camera obscura. In the paper, Wotton tells of Kepler's `tent' "which can be moved about, totally closed and dark with a small hole about an inch and a half in diameter". This description comes with no illustration, and 35 years later Kircher will speak of a similar depiction.

Kepler's tent may have looked something like this engraving (left) which is taken from a 19th century English encyclopedia. Henry Wotton described this portable camera obscura of Kepler's to Francis Bacon.

1611 - 1612

Scheiner used his "Pantograph" or "Helioscope" to view sunspots (see 1610 SCHEINER). This instrument was a small portable camera 22 metres in length with a telescope for the aperture. It is illustrated in his 'Rosa Ursina'. Scheiner was able to project the surface of the sun onto a piece of paper where he could draw it. This helioptric telescope protected the eye from damage. Scheiner and Galileo differed in their views on these sunspots.
Scheiner's Sunspot Drawings
Scheiner's sunspots seen through the heliograph were provided for us in his 'Rosa Ursina Sive Sol' by way of drawings (above). Clearly the camera obscura has played a vital role in other sciences. (Taken from William R. Shea, Scheiner, Christoph," Dictionary of Scientific Biography; idem, "Scheiner, and the Interpretation of Sunspots," Isis, 61 (1970):498-519).

FRANCOIS D'AGUILON (1566 - 1617)
  A professor of philosophy, D'Aguilon wrote a treatise on optics and in it uses the term "Stereoscopic Projection" (book 6). He also studies persistence of vision, or after-images, and illusions. One extant edition of this book called 'Opticorum Libri Sex' was published in Antwerp in 1685. D'Aguilon died in the year he was revising it.  
ANGELO SALA (1576 - 1637)
  This German physician and chemist published this year a small paper entitled 'Septem Planetarum Terrestrium Spagricia Recensio', and reported that silver nitrate in powdered form will turn black in sunlight. Silver nitrate at the time was known as lapis lunearis, and Sala discovered that paper would also turn black when wrapped around it.  

Illustration From Oculus 1619 1619

In this year Scheiner describes in his book 'Oculus' (Scheiner, 1619) the camera obscura utilizing a human figure as an actor and showing the inverted image. Scheiner, in this same manuscript shows an illustration highlighting the use of a second lens to invert the image.

Illustration (left) from Scheiner's 'Oculus' of 1619. Here he gives a clear demonstration of a room-type camera obscura in the form of a cave or earthen hut. It clearly shows the use of a second lens in order to erect the image.


  Drebbel was an inventor with imagination. Besides making a compound telescope, Drebbel also developed a machine for grinding lenses, and placed a lens in the aperture of a camera obscura he built. He also constructed a projecting lantern.  
SALOMON DE CAUS (1576 - 1626)
  This French engineer took the writings of Heron of Alexandria (SEE HERO AD 120) and having interpreted them, built a replica of the automaton singing bird which Heron had only described.  
Willebrord Snell 1626

Also VAN SNELL, and VAN ROYEN (SNELLIUS). This professor of mathematics at Leyden discovers the law governing the refraction of light but did not publish it. Later in 1703 Christian Huygens published his findings in 'Dioptrica'.
  1626 - 30
  Scheiner began his 'Rosa Ursina Sive Sol' in 1626 and finished it in 1630. His work included the use of the camera obscura using a telescope lens, to throw the image of the sun and sunspots onto a screen where they could be studied and drawn (see 1611 SCHEINER). The camera he used was housed within a wooden box which the telescope lens was secured to.  
  Besides designing and building a workable submarine, this Dutch glass maker, engraver and engineer spoke of the camera obscura and had an important hand in the development of the magic lantern, perhaps alongside Kircher. Drebbel also commented on the relationship between art and the camera image.  

Petro Gassendi 1631

This astronomer uses the camera to observe the transit of Mercury across the sun and describes it in his 'Institutio Astronomica' (Gassendo, Petro, Paris, France, 1647, pp186,199).

Pierre Gassendi

  Leucheron duplicates in his 'Recreations Mathematiques' (Leucheron, J. Paris, France, 1633, Trans. by William Oughtred) Scheiner's description of a room-type camera obscura in the form of a cave or earthen hut. The illustration which accompanies it is a reproduction from Scheiner's 'Oculus' of 1619 and clearly shows the use of the second lens in order to erect the image. Perhaps as a joke or social comment, Leucheron presented the illustration upside down. SEE SCHEINER  

Bate describes the Zoetrope in his 'Mysteries of Nature and Art' (Bate, John, London, 1634, p30). The work of Bate was an inspiration to Issac Newton.
John Bate
John Bate

Athanasius Kircher 1635

Kircher was a scholar at Rome who was made professor of mathematics. He observed the sun using the camera obscura. Kircher was diverse in his experimentations and studies as he was also involved with hydraulic organs.

Athanasius Kircher

DANIEL SCHWENTER (1585 - 1636)

This professor of mathematics and oriental languages at Altdorf constructed what was called a scioptric ball (today's fish-eye lens). Movement of this lens-ball in the aperture of the camera allowed artists to draw or paint panoramic views. Schwenter describes this lens in his 'Deliciae Physio Mathematicae' (Schwenter, Daniel, Nurnberg, Germany, 1651, p255). Zahn (Oculus Artificialis, Zahn, Johann, Wurzburg, 1685-6) and Schott (Magia Universalis Naturae Et Artis, "The Wonders of Universal Nature and Art", Schott, Kaspar, Wurzburg, 1657, p76) both speak of the lens; Zahn as "scioptric" and Schott as "ox-eye".
Schwenter's Scioptric Ball Illustration
Schwenter's illustration (right) of his scioptric ball, or as he called it, an "ox-eye lens". This lens provided the same effect as today's fish-eye lens (-28mm). It was constructed with two lenses mounted at opposite ends of a circular ball or sphere, made out of wood. It was secured enough to hold the lenses in place, and would also allow movement within, thereby providing a panoramic view of the image being viewed such as a landscape by simply swiveling the ball. This illustration comes from Schwenter's 'Deliciae Physio Mathematicae', published in 1636.

Rene Descartes 1637

Descartes wrote in his 'La Dioptrique' (1637) about vision and the eye. He compared the eye to the camera obscura saying the retina is the screen of the camera.
Rene Decartes' 1637 diagram (right) of the eye as a camera obscura. Descartes compared the eye to the camera saying that the retina is the same as the screen of the camera where the image resides. On page 76 of his 'Magia Universalis', Kaspar Schott also used the eye (of an ox), to compare with the retinal image.
Descartes Illustration Of The Eye As A Camera Obscura


This English astronomer observed the transit of venus across the sun using the camera obscura, 24th November. The German astronomer Kepler predicted the event, but Horrox corrected Kepler's calculation to the exact day of the year.
Lavender's 1903 Painting Of Horrocks Observing The Transit

Lavender's 1903 Painting Of The Moment


  1640 - 1644
  It is impossible to know for sure, but sometime within these four years, Kircher is believed to have presented a slide show which was projected onto a screen with illumination from behind by a candle. In 1646 Kircher will publish his 'Ars Magna' (1st edition, Rome) which will detail the camera obscura and magic lantern.  
PIERRE HERIGONE (1580 - 1643)
  This French mathematician in his 'Supplementum Cursus Mathematici' (Herigone, Pierre, Paris, France, 1642, Perspectives, ch6, p113) describes a camera obscura in the form of a goblet. The drinker could keep tabs on his guests without their knowledge. Herigone did not draw his goblet, but Zahn would illustrate the same in his 'Oculus'. Little else is known of Herigone excepting his work in mathematics.  

Illustration From Ars Magna Of Kircher's Room Camera Obscura 1646 1646

The most mentioned name in reference to the magic lantern, Kircher describes it in his 'Ars Magna Lucis Et Umbra' (The Great Art of Light and Shadow, Kircher, A., 1st ed. vol.10, Rome, Italy, 1646) and illustrates a camera obscura of almost room size (plate 28 of vol.10, sec. 2). In the last volume he explains the magic lantern and it's use. Kircher describes a similar construction of a camera to that of Wotton's description (which was of Kepler's). Kircher also details in the book a revolving wheel of painted pictures, something which wasn't seen again until the 19th century. 'Ars Magna' (1st ed) did not include any illustration of the magic lantern however it did include a fine illustration of the camera obscura.
Camera Obscura (above) from Athanasius Kircher's Ars Magna Lucis Et Umbra (The Great Art of Light and Shadow) 1646. Originally, camera obscuras were the size of rooms and thus take their name from the latin 'dark room'. (Ars Magna, 1st ed. vol.10, plate 28 of vol.10, sec. 2, 1646). In this image we can see the 'room within the room' with appropriate pinholes where the light image strikes the interior wall where the artist can then render his drawing. The inner wall is semi transparent, allowing the artist to see his image before he draws it. 'F' identifies a trap door in the floor for entry and exit.

ANGELO SALA (1576 - 1637)
  Sala publishes the first of two editions (2nd 1682) of his 'Opera Medica Chimicae' in which he tells of the invention of his caustic stone or "hollenstein" by smelting silver nitrate.  
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