Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau (1801 – 1883)
Daguerreotype portrait of Joseph Plateau

Joseph Plateau collection phot. Joseph Pelizzaro (1843)

Daguerreotype portrait depicting Joseph Plateau

I’m most thankfull to Professor Jos Uyttenhove & Professor Maurice Dorikens(University Ghent) for permission to use images from the world famous Joseph Plateau collection. The Phenakistiscope is the most important Kinetic toy in pre-film history.
The optical items in the Plateau collection are rare incunabula of the moving images.In addition to the Plateau web site of the Science Museum, University Ghent, I hope to help in making this collection better known.

Plateau and Stampfer are the Grandfathers of Cinema. Most cited with this honour is Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau. In “Sur un nouveau genre d’illusion d’optique“, Plateau describes the working of a disc with 16 slots and images in between. This principle is one of the major techniques wich enabled us to produce “moving pictures” from the end of the 19th. until today. The first disc illustrating Plateau’s scientific discription is the Dancer as seen in the black & white drawing below. This disc is both an incunabula and precursor of animation film and cinema. The disc was often plagiarised and exist in different versions, non-coloured and coloured.

While mentioned as a scientific device, the Phenakistiscope became well know and popular as a toy for children. The phenakistiscope was not the first optical amusement able to conjure-up the illusion of movement. Many intriguing devices where invented before and after the rise of the Phenakistiscope (round 1833)
The Phenakistiscope, invented by Professor Joseph Plateau  (1801-1883) and The Stampfer Disc, invented by Professor Simon Stampfer  (1792-1864) are both the same devices, done indepentently by these two scientists.
The device was mentioned to be a
scientific experiment in creating the illusion of movement and how our eyes are able to experience this.The daguerreotype portrait (above right) depicting Joseph Plateau was discovered at the home of his descendants in France only a few years ago. This historical important portrait shows one of the inventors of moving images shortly before he became blind. Joseph Pilizzaro, a photographer working in Ghent from 1821 till 1852, took this image in 1843.

Mouve mouse over to see Plateau’s ‘Dancer’ in colour

coloured design
Joseph Plateau collection
Mouve mouse over to see the Stampfer disc working

This Gif animation is kindly offerd by Jey. Collection Visual Media

The phenakistiscope and Stampfer discs are able to create the illusion of live more than 60 years before the invention of film. However, this early method of creating live in

static images was not the first succesfull attempt to show animated images. (e.g. animated magic lantern slides, preceding the phenakistiscope and the Choreutoscope)

Click the daguerreotype to see a marble bust of Plateau and visit the Joseph Plateau collection in the Science Museum, University of Ghent.
The devices on this and many other Early Visual-Media pages were known as Philosophical Toys in the Victorian Era. These mostly “table top” toys demonstrate the principles of 18th. & 19th.Century scientific experiments. These toys have a scientific value indeed, since they help us to understand new ideas, theories and inventions.

“Philosophical Toys” induce experiences that provoke questions about the world surrounding us. They are able in helping us to understand the nature of reality and truth, many of them however are able to mislead by creating virtual illusions.

Click to see some phenakistiscopes in the Plateau collection
Anorthoscope – Phénakistiscope Disc with Monk

Joseph Plateau collection
The Science Museum of the Ghent University houses the scientific instrument collection of Joseph Plateau. The scope of the collection is much wider than the kinetic devices that are of interest to Early Visual Media. Other aspects of Plateau’s scientific researches are represented.
Click here to order the richly illustrated catalogue for more information. Besides a large collection of early commercialized phenakistiscope discs, the science museum showpieces are the daguerreotype portrait of Plateau (see top of page) and the hand painted (by Plateau & Madou) “combined Anorthoscope – Phenakistiscope” discs which were never commercialized.For both “Anorthoscope – Phenakistiscope” discs of “The Monk” and “The Devil“, Madou painted the basic image after which Plateau calculated the subsequent “stills”. These “stills” are seen with the illusion of movement through the slots of a turning disc placed in front of the translucent Monk and devil discs.

Indeed, both discs are made transparent by the aid of waxed paper and coloured from behind. For this, the effect is comparable with peepshow views and stereo tissues as seen in the diableries, two other main themes on Visual media. Mouve mouse over the image to see the devil appear!

See some replica Phenakistiscope discs and other newly made Optical Toys

Click to see some Anorthoscope discs in the Plateau collectionThe transparent discs are mounted and lit from behind on the anorthoscope apparatus as seen on the right. The combined Monk & Devil discs may not be confused with the AnamorphicAnorthoscope discs altough both devices uses the same kind of apparatus to make them work. (An anamorphic disc is seen here, mounted on the apparatus)Opposite to the real anorthoscope, the images of the combined discs have no anamorphic distortion that needs to be reconstructed. The Anorthoscope apparatus is responsible for creating the illusion of movement.

In the real

Anorthoscope the apparatus is responsible to reconstruct an anamorphic distorted image into his normal proportions. In he latter case, there is no mouvement at all.Both the

Anorthoscope and combined discs (the latter illustrated above) are placed on the apparatus behind a black opaque disc with 4 openings. The discs turn rapidly in opposite directions and the result can be seen by several people at the same time.

When the torch of the Monk appears from behind a pillar the torch illuminates the the scene.

Anorthoscope by Susse (Paris)

Joseph Plateau collection

n No matter visitors like it or not, devils, ghosts, skeletons, etc., etc.,etc., are a recurrent theme in Early Visual Media n

n But of course, a brilliant risque alternative is obvious too in media visual history n

Devils playing with an anorthoscope

Joseph Plateau collection


The harder the Devil blows, the more his face lights up due to the fire.

The described and illustrated disc are late examples of an early tradition of transparant painting techniques, this time ameliorated with the illusion of mouvement.
Both discs also have in common the theme of the Phantasmagoria where death, devils and the bleeding nun are the leading characters.
Other showpieces are the anamorphic Anorthoscope discs & apparatus collection, the Duboscq Bioscope and the rest of the Phenakistiscope Collection.

The image on the left shows a Painting by Madou depicting Devils playing with an anorthoscope. The resemblance with Plateau and the Devil in the foreground is obvious when looking at the Plateau Daguerreotype.

The Scientific ‘Thin Films’ Stereo’s
A most interesting set ofScientific stereo images depicts the formation of laminar films on metal frames. These certainly deserve our attention, and more especially further research both for their scientific value and almost abstract beauty.This set of 188 images was made by the photographer Adolph Neyt to register an other aspect of Plateau’s scientific research into

Liquide glycériqueHopefully a future researcher will use a large selection of these images in a publication of interest both to scientists and the and the collector of rare stereo images.

Read more information on Soap Bubbles in the Network Journal
Visit also scientific photographs by Agence M. Rol to celebrate the “25 Anniversaire de l’ Institut Pasteur” sic. November 1913

The Anorthoscope discs

Joseph Plateau collection
Allthough the phenakistiscope is a real forerunner of moving pictures, the persistence of vision does not explain it’s illusion of mouvement as conceived by Joseph Plateau and read in most film histories, even today. This however does not diminish the importance of the phenakistiscope / stroboscope as a scientific device.

As read in Laurent Mannoni’s new important history of the pre-cinema era, The Great Art of Light and Shadowtwo other phenomena allow us to see the thousands of different images which pass over the screen without interference: the phi effect, explained by Wertheimer in 1912, and visual masking, which frees us from retinal persistence or persistence of vision“However, the persistence of vision helps in reconstruction the illusion of a normal “still” image during the fast spinning in opposite directions of an

Anorthoscopic image and the slotted disc. On the Anorthoscope page of the science museum, U-Ghent, more information and reconstructions of working discs, as illustrated on the left, can be seen.The

phi effect is caused by the interrelationship between the brain and the optic nerve. The illusory movement perceived by an onlooker regarding an object’s movement from one place to another in a consecutive series of events. In actuality, no motion has occurred.

Twohundred years after Plateau’s birthday, The University in Ghent organised a Joseph Plateau exhibition based on research by professor Maurice Dorikens, and accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue in three languages. Click here to open a PDF file with press information about this 2001 exhibition.

The catalogue: “Joseph Plateau, Leven tussen Kunst en Wetenschap” written by professor Maurice Dorikens, Laurent Mannoni, David Robinson and G. Pisano-Basile is still available.
The information on the Joseph Plateau pages, both text and images, is mainly based on the above extensive catalogue.Read more a translation of Plateau’s book

Duboscq Bioscope

Perhaps the most challenging device for research in the Joseph Plateau collection is the Duboscq Bioscope or albumin stereo phenakistiscope disc.

Unfortunately, only the disc is preserved and no apparatus is known.

Un-workable computer generated reconstruction
Joseph Plateau collection
At the right we see a computer generated reconstruction by I. Verhaeghe Visit the Science Museum U-Ghent

Painting in Complementary colours Quetelet’s portrait

Adolphe Quetelet (1796 – 1874) and his good friend Wheatstone (1802 – 1875) who invented the stereoscope have a regular scientific correspondance.

The portrait on the right, presumable depicting Adolphe Quetelet is painted on a black sheet using complementary colours, opposite to the natural colours of the sitter. Plateau talks about “accidental colours“.

If staring at the image for a short period (one minute), followed by staring at a white wall, the drawing will appear in colours, complementary to those used to draw the portrait. By this at it may, the portrait is seen in it’s “natural colours“. Mouve mouse over the image or just follow the above instruction to see the optical illusion.

Quetelet was lecturer at the Atheneum in Brussel and teacher of Joseph Plateau. From 1819 till 1822 Plateau was one of Quetelet’s students. During their live, both scientists stay friends.

In 1825 Quetelet set up a magazine, “Correspondance Mathématique et Physique
From then until the disappearance of the publication, many of Plateau’s important articles where published in the magazine of his former teacher and friend. In 1827, Plateau start lecturing in the Atheneum in Luik.

Portrait in complementary colours
Joseph Plateau collection
Galilei type “soapsud” telescope
Joseph Plateau collection

Joseph Plateau was a versatile scientist who also researched the

formation of laminar films. Two rings immersed in his “Liquide glycérique” produced a simple positive and negative lens and transfom the object into a cumbersome, but working, Galilei type “soapsuds” telescope. The fragile apparatus produces an optical enlargment of two with an acceptable good image.During his live, Joseph Plateau became blind round 1844. Thanks to the help of colleges and family, Plateau was able to follow-up his optical and other scientific experimets.

It’s needless to say that Joseph Plateau became one of the important researchers in the field of optical applications, judging only partly some aspekts of his work relevant to the history of visual media.

His invention of the Phenakistiscope establish Plateau in media history as an early grandfather of moving pictures and showpiece of the Ghent Film festival.

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