Our Notes & References
Rare broadside for series of entertainments in Moscow, including an optical theatre of animated figures by a versatile performer and craftsman.
Forerunners of cinema, optical-mechanical theatres specialized in showing images in motion with the help of light. They appeared in Russia in the late 18th century, using light and images placed on a small stage, with side mechanisms animating various objects. In this broadside, Petersburg “specialist in physics, mechanics, optics, and hydraulics”, as he calls himself, Genrikh Misho (Heinrich Micheau?) announces new performances of his Mechanical Theatre of Light, offering tickets for three rows of spectators and promising impressive special effects. His program includes the sights of Rome and Lucerne, Alexander Column in Petersburg and Chapelle de Guillaume Tell in Switzerland, all animated by passers-by and radiant lights. One of the most dramatic performances promised in the announcement is the Tempest, accompanied by the sounds of thunder. A sudden lightning strikes a lonely ship and destroys it – only one sailor survives and climbs on a cliff, “kneels down and stretches his hands to the sky, thanking Providence for such unexpected deliverance from imminent death” (our translation).
Misho’s list of entertainments continues with the new lively kosmorama, or the “optical journey”. This performance is intended for individual viewers who look into a peephole of a wooden box with manually changing pictures. Such viewers would see the (almost 10-year-old) Coronation of Tsar Nicholas I in Moscow, suddenly followed by a dozen of various images, including the Egyptian pyramids, Hagia Sophia in Constantinople or a monastery in Kiev.
On top of that, Misho offers visits to his glass blowing workshop where he, “with a surprising speed and extreme heat, stretches glass to its thinnest form up until it turns into brilliant dust or threads that can reach thousands of metres when straightened” (our translation). At the end of the visit, the viewers can take such amusing glass objects free of charge.
Golodovskii, Boris. Kukly. Entsiklopedia. / Kinetozographia. Moskva, Vremia, 2003. (online)
Konechnyi, Albin, Byloi Peterburg: proza budnei i poezia prazdnika. NLO, 2021.