Take a look: paper peepshows

There is magic in a box! In the 18th century, a closed box with a peephole offered entertainment and wonder. Through the peephole you could take a closer look at the objects on display inside the box. Scenes on display were, e.g., street views, military actions, religious themes, etc; it could also be sexually explicit.

The box was made of paper and was foldable, due to its accordion-like shape. Lighting was provided by slits so that candlelight could fall on the object.

Paper peepshow: “Nativity Scene – in the Temple” , 1740-50, made in Augsburg/ Germany

So-called “peepshows” -or: perspective views – appeared in Europe in the 18th century. They were exhibited on streets and fairs across Europe by itinerant showmen.

The Great exhibition”, 1851, front and top view

A paper peepshow creates an illusion of great depth. This effect is achieved by the uneven distance between the cut-out panels. E.g., the front-face and first two panels are much farther apart from each other than the rest, and the space between the fifth and back panels is particularly narrow.

The Way to St Pauls”, 1825, side view an front view

The paper peepshow developed into the toy theatre – or: paper theatre – in the early 19th century. Toy theatres were small-sized replicas of popular plays made of printed cardboards. A concession stand of a playhouse or an opera house sold them as kits. You would assemble the printed cardboards at home and perform the play who had enjoyed for your family.

Stage design; Klingnor’s Magic Garden for Richard Wagner’s “Parcifal”, 1882
diving into Klingnor’s Magic Garden for Richard Wagner’s “Parcifal”,

Related articles


  • V & A, London, / UK; at: https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1418246/viorama-or-the-way-to-paper-peepshow-ingrey-madeley/viorama-or-the-way-to-paper-peepshow-ingrey–madeley/
  • Museum of London, London / UK
  • Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich / Germany
  • James zu Hüningen: „Diorama I: Illusionsszenen; Kromskop; Mutoskop; Zograscope“; at https://filmlexikon.uni-kiel.de/doku.php/p:peepshow-4532
  • www.wikipedia.com