Into the Sublime

Dr. G. McIver
3 min readApr 8, 2024

Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon Reimagined

Eidophusikon’ comes from eidoion (‘phantom’, ‘image’, or ‘apparition’) + phusis (‘nature’ or ‘natural appearance’) + eikon (‘image’ or ‘likeness’)

A NOTE ON THE USE OF AI IMAGES IN THIS ARTICLE. These are not meant to be accurate representations of the actual stage at Drury Lane, nor are they meant to be any kind of art. They are used to give an approximation of what Georgian spectacle may have ‘felt like’ to the theatregoers.

AI GENERATED IMAGE OF AN 18TH CENTURY STAGE
AI GENERATED IMAGE OF THE STAGE AT DRURY LANE CIRCA 1776

‘Into the Sublime: the Eidophusikon Reimagined’ is Artist in Residence Gillian McIver’s reconstruction and reimagining of the iconic Eidophusikon, a milestone in theatre history. It was created by the 18th-century French painter Philip James de Loutherbourg RA, who served as a stage designer for David Garrick at Drury Lane, creating sublime stage effects that astounded audiences.

A Popular Entertainment

The original Eidophusikon was a small-scale stage set that combined dramatic paintings, lights, gauze, coloured glass, and smoke to create scenic effects. The original was 304.8cm wide; the reinterpretation will be only slightly smaller. Loutherbourg’s effects included panoramas of London, storms at sea, and scenes from Milton’s Paradise Lost. The Eidophusikon opened in February 1781 in Lisle Street, Leicester Square — which was Loutherbourg’s home and in its second season transferred to a rented premises. The Eidophusikon was a popular entertainment in London and is widely regarded as a crucial forerunner to cinema.

THE EIDOPHUSIKON, DRAWING, 1781.

Swedenborg’s ideas about art and science, material work and the afterlife, and his vision of the Divine

Gillian’s Eidophusikon will follow Loutherbourg’s plan of a five-scene performance while incorporating current contemporary art (by herself and a number of London and international artists) to explore Swedenborg’s ideas about art and science, material work and the afterlife, and his vision of the Divine. Loutherbourg knew Swedenborg and most likely painted the ascribed portrait, which is on display at Swedenborg House.

AI GENERATED IMAGE OF THE STAGE AT DRURY LANE CIRCA 1776

‘the eagerness of curiosity is so great, that as the scenes follow each other in a quick succession, the spectators too frequently rise from their seats, as to destroy the perspective effects of the picture’ The Morning Herald 1781

“the Eidophusikon was a rather complex theatrical machine, a multimedia apparatus reminiscent of Baroque contraptions but adapted to a new Romantic taste for the sublime by combining in a moving diorama naturalistic images accompanied by dramatic lighting and ambient sound effects. The Eidophusikon is a kind of transitional medium because it consists of a mechanical apparatus designed to produce an artificial imitation of suggestive natural effects. The key to these effects is motion: in short, the Eidophusikon translates into spectacle a vision of nature in motion.” Massimo Riva

PLAYBILL FOR THE EIDOPHUSIKON

Originally published at http://artandmagick.blog on April 8, 2024.

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