With LOOK>>, we venture into our wide-ranging collections and bring out a single object to explore in a short video. Up first is Samuel Leigh and John Heaviside Clark’s Myriorama from 1824.
In the early 1820s, a popular new toy came on the market—the myriorama—whose name was derived from the Greek words myrias, meaning “multitude,” and orama, meaning “scene” or “view.” A myriorama comprised a set of illustrated cards, each representing a slice of a landscape. No matter what order you placed them in, the cards created a cohesive scene. The near-endless possibilities made it a popular entertainment for people of all ages.
After the success of the first myriorama, designed by Jean-Pierre Brès in France, the toy took off across Europe, sparking imitations in Austria, England, Germany, and the Netherlands. The Huntington has one of the first English myrioramas.
In 1824, Samuel Leigh, a London bookseller and art toy manufacturer, created Myriorama: A Collection of Many Thousand Landscapes, Designed by Mr Clark, the object seen here in the video. It features 16 hand-colored aquatint panels by noted landscape and battle artist John Heaviside Clark. Each panel depicts idealized English and Scottish scenery, including ruins, lakes, and mountains.
Leigh and Clark adopted the name myriorama and the design of the box that housed the cards from the original French version, in the hopes of inspiring artists to draw attractive landscapes. Their myriorama also introduced the innovation of numbering the bottom of each panel, making it possible to record and later recreate scenes found especially pleasing.
Myrioramas provided dynamic visual entertainment at a time when the advent of cinema was still decades away. With their incredible number of possible combinations and charming visuals, myrioramas were “one of the most diversified and exhaustless inventions for variety and pleasing amusement that has hitherto appeared,” according to the London’s Morning Chronicle at the time.
The Huntington’s 16-card myriorama can be arranged into an astounding 20,922,789,888,000 (that’s 20 trillion!) different scenes. (Though if one follows the lead of this video and lays out only six panels at a time rather than all 16, a mere 5,765,760 scenes can be constructed.) Later myrioramas with larger sets of cards could provide an unfathomable number of permutations, reaching well beyond our standard naming conventions (300 decillion, anyone?). It was a low-tech but highly effective source of almost limitless fun.
Olivia Hummer is an intern in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.
Kate Lain is the new media developer at The Huntington.