This little box I saw at Musee Labinet is a candy box, the kind where you keep your tic-tac or mint or whatever else you-suck-upon candy. The museum’s catalogue says that they hesitate to offer us any dates for this box. Intriguing! Should we try guessing it?
The picture that we see on the box is that of an angel playing with a magic lantern. What’s a magic lantern? Magic lantern is a seventeenth century invention: a box with a candle on the inside, plus a tube with a lens, inside the tube they would slide a painted glass, the image was then lit up, enlarged and projected on the screen. This was a slide show before photography had invented any slides.
What the angel is showing to his puppy is a picture of a flower with an over-developed upper petal. If we change the angle of the candy box, the angel should show us the portraits of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette inside that petal.
Count Paroy, Louis XVII’s teacher, used the magic lantern at the Little Trianon for Dauphin’s education. After the Revolution, Etienne-Gaspard Robert had found a new application for the device, a phantasmagoric show: in 1789 he brought a number of famous dead people back to life with the help of his phantoscope. But, in spite of requests from his audience, Robert would never show Louis XVI. Should we date the candy box as the late XVIII century?
More like early XIX century, for what Abee Robert, under the pseudonym of Robertson, really said to his audience was this, he used to have a magic formula to do what the audience had requested, but he was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to do it anymore.
Immediately after he had said that, Robert’s show was shut down by the Revolutionary Committee For Public Safety and his equipment was confiscated, while he himself fled to Bordeaux. When things had calmed down, Robert came back to Paris, and he offered his audience another ghost show, only now he would bring back to life Marat, Danton and Robespierre.
P.S. Musee Arts et Metiers exhibits some of Robertson’s props; also, for those with an acute sense of morbid curiosity, Robertson’s grave at the cemetery of Pere La Chaise shows a cute little hollogram of a bat!