unknown artist: Diableries 1861

unknown artist: Diableries 1861

Charles Wheatstone developed his theory of stereopsis in 1838, building a stereoscope to validate his theory. Louis-Jules Duboscq invented the stereograph or stereo photograph in 1851, presenting his new work at the Great Exhibition. In 1852 Duboscq introduced his Duboscq-Soliel Stereo Viewer – a piece of drawing room furniture through which his stereographs could be viewed to obtain the maximum 3-d effect. This machine, and similar stereo viewers engendered an interesting effect – that people, once they had got used to the stereo 3d effect, wanted more images to experience. Hundreds of thousands of stereographs were produced to satisfy this new market for home entertainment, many of them mundane and most of them visually un-inspiring. However from the early 1860s, sets of stereographs began to appear anonymously in Paris and became cult collectibles. Eventually a suite of 72 cards – called Les Diableries – became available and much sought after. The Diableries were photographs of table-top dioramas – tableaux illustrating the machinations of the Devil. Because of the signatures on some of the miniature sculptures and figurines, some surmise that it was the artist Pierre Adolphe Hennetier who was the creator of these fascinating depictions of the underworld. It is interesting that Gaspard-Felix Tournachon (Nadar)’s photographs – the first taken by electric light – in the maze-like Parisian sewers and underground tunnels had been published just a year or so before the Diableries appeared. As if the re-discovery of the real underground Paris catalysed the Diableries as fanciful and macabre visualisations of the metaphysical underground. The Diableries is an extended series of three-dimensional tableaux, tapping into a vein of religious iconography stemming from works like the Danse Macabre of the Mediaeval period, and looking forward to the horror genre of the movies. This is a very accomplished set of stylistically coherent illustrations – a remarkable feat, perhaps even more remarkable for its anonymity. The musician and photo-historian Brian May has collaborated recently on a major study of the Diableries, which is highly recommended.

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