Since their creation, Magic Lanterns were used to project highly diversified imagery for numerous different contexts, including entertainment, education, science, religion and advertising, being a common device in homes, theatres, churches and academic institutions, in particular in the 19th c..  Until the appearance of photography (and even after) the images projected by Magic Lanterns were hand-painted on glass slides. This required the mastery of painting on a glass substrate; since all details were magnified through projection, hand-painted glass slides are considered to be miniature masterpieces in their own right.

With Lanterna Magica, we aim to deepen our understanding of the context in which historic glass slides were produced and used. We propose to develop innovative approaches to investigate for the first time the Cinemateca Portuguesa - Museu do Cinema’s collection of glass slides for Magic Lanterns by exploring simultaneously their history, their materials and techniques of production, and their conservation, as well as systems for access to this unique resource. This project is fundamental to the discovery of new information and insights into the history and conservation of our material culture.

Using this multi-faceted approach, we aim to answer the following questions:  

Q1) What was the use, role and significance of the Magic Lanterns and glass slides in the historic social context of Portugal?

Q2) Can different glass slides makers be distinguished according to the materials and techniques used?

Q3) Are the main conservation issues for historical glass slides mainly associated with natural ageing or with the initial properties of the paint materials and their exposure to aggressive conditions (temperature and light) during projection with Magic Lanterns?

Q4) How can we engage the general public with this fascinating part of our heritage?

These research questions encompass the main objectives and projected outcomes of Lanterna Magica. They will be addressed through six interrelated tasks, which follow the production of glass lantern slides from the initial preparation of the materials employed to the finished product. We will trace their way through time and social function into their current repository in the museum’s collection.

Task 1 

Selection of representative glass slides from the national collections, taking into consideration subjects, makers and production techniques as well as the slide’s intended function. All slides studied will be incorporated in Lucerna – the Magic Lantern Web Resource.

Task 2

Investigates the use, role and significance of Magic Lanterns in social contexts throughout their history both in Portugal and in Europe and the USA. This work will fulfil the need for more research and a deeper analysis of the relationships between objects and the people who use them. We will consider the importance and popularity of this medium and its impact on contemporary society from the 17th through to the 19th century. We will also focus on the role of Magic Lanterns for entertainment, education and also on their use by artists.

Task 3

Characterisation of the glass slides selected in Task 1 in terms of their chemical composition and technique of production in order to: 
i) study the historical evolution of production techniques;
ii) identify common and/or differentiating techniques and materials used by different producers;
iii) obtain information fundamental for the reproduction of painted glass plates according to the historical techniques (Task 4), for degradation tests and conservation procedures (Task 5) and also to be used in new artistic production (Task 6).

Analytical techniques such as Optical Microscopy, Energy Dispersive X-ray Fluorescence, Ion Beam Analysis, UV-Vis-NIR spectroscopy, Spectrofluorimetry, Raman and Infrared spectrometry, will allow a full characterization of the historical and produced materials. 

Task 4

Investigation of the production of historic artists’ materials.  Reference samples for comparison with actual paint samples will be produced using recipes contemporary with the production of the hand-painted glass slides and historically appropriate materials. Reconstructions will be based on pigment, paint and varnish production records available in ‘The Winsor &Newton 19th Century Archive Database (Researcher’s Edition)’. W&N (founded 1832) was one of the brands used for the production of hand-painted glass slides. Their involvement with glass slide painting is evidenced by the company publishing a manual on the “method of painting, and an account of the implements and materials employed in producing subjects for dissolving views, magic lanterns (…) for obtaining effects of motion and colour”. Glass with the same composition found in historic glass slides will be synthesised and glass sheets produced according to the technology available during the period of interest. All reconstructions will be fully characterized by the same analytical tools used for the study of the historical material.

Investigating historic materials in terms of their inherent properties and their susceptibility to degradation is fundamental for determining to methods to ensure their safe handling, storage and preservation. 

Task 5

Evaluation of the state of conservation of the painted glass slides selected. The following will be evaluated: corroded layers and corrosion products on the glass substrate, usually associated with the reaction of glass with atmospheric water; the adhesion of the paint layers to the substrate, paint cracking and losses due to the degradation of paint binders; paint colour alterations due to light exposure. Reconstructions produced in Task 4 will be exposed to artificial ageing using variations in relative humidity, temperature and light levels, to better understand the development of pathologies previously identified in the historical glass slides. Reconstructions will also be used to test conservation procedures, in particular cleaning, consolidation and reintegration of the glass substrate and pictorial layers. A set of guidelines for the conservation of both the glass and paint layers will be made available to conservation professionals.

Task 6

An innovative exhibition to express the narrative surrounding Magic Lanterns and the different ways they were employed will be presented at Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema. It will include original historical objects and contemporary artworks, reconstructions of paint recipes and replicas, multimedia material, and exhibits with hands-on activities. For the exhibition, several participatory experiences will be developed, allowing the public direct contact with objects, their history and their stories. Lastly, new productions for Magic Lantern shows will be presented at Monstra, Animated Film Festival (

Lanterna Magica will build a body of knowledge that enhances our understanding of the materials and production methods used in the creation of glass slides and on the history of their use in Magic Lantern projections. This will result in:  
i) A better understanding of production centres and whether the fabrication techniques were specific to a time or place throughout their history of use. 
ii) New information on the mechanisms of their degradation in order to develop preservation strategies and to ensure access to this resource for future generations.  
iii) The rediscovery of lost materials and techniques of use to conservators, historians, and contemporary artists.
iv) An opportunity to restore and refresh in the eyes of the wider public, the image of Magic Lanterns as one of the first and most exciting projection technologies, and to tell the story of their social impact due to their broad use both in entertainment and educational contexts.

This project grows out of collaboration established between Cinemateca Portuguesa - Museu do Cinema, MIMO - Museu da Imagem em Movimento, MUHNAC - Museu de História Natural e da Ciência, Museu da Ciência da Universidade de Coimbra, the Research Unit VICARTE - Glass and Ceramics for the Arts and LAQV@REQUIMTE (FCT NOVA) the Institute of Art History (FCSH NOVA) and the Centre for Nuclear Sciences and Technologies (C2TN-IST).