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Carlo Ponti 
Megalethoscope (Megaletoscopio) 
n.d. 
  
Digital image 
Guernsey's - New York 
 
LL/23041 
  
This item was included in the auction of "The Naylor Collection: Celebrating The History of Photography" at Guernsey‘s (New York, Oct 18-21, 2007)
 
With this viewer, a well-to-do Italian family could see colored photographs before the invention of color film. This Megaletoscopio, as it is named in Italian, is a photograph viewer made of ebonized teak, designed for the optical viewing of 11" x 14" wet-plate photographs of Italian and French scenes. It was created and patented by noted Italian photographer Carlo Ponti in 1859. The photos were framed in wood with cheese cloth covering the back of the frames. The photographs were black and white; however, Ponti had a vision of providing the daylight photo as a night view or a colored view. Such photography was impossible, so he borrowed the idea of Louis Daguerre (who in 1839 announced the first commercial photography.) In the 1820's, in France, Daguerre crated a theatre named the Diorama. During daylight the Diorama would show painted pictures on a cloth screen. Through the use of many roof top windows with blinds and shutters and with an artist's painting on the back of the Diorama screen, Daguerre could create both a day view in black and white or a colored view of the same scene. The Diorama was very successful. Carlo Ponti, a superb wet-plate photographer, was not only responsible for making the Megaletoscopio but was also the optician to King Victor Emmanuel II. In 1859 he secured a patent on the Aletoscope, a rather massive optical photograph viewer, which was redesigned and named Megaletoscopio, coming from the greek to mean "to better see reality." Though exotic by any standard, Megaletoscopios were finely crafted of otherwise unadorned walnut wood. It is known that a special model was created with a lion and serpent themed-base but even that pales by comparison to the unique Ivory Megaletoscopio in the Naylor Collection. Now, Ponti, with his wet-plate photography and the Megaletoscopio, and the use of reflected light and a kerosene lamp could provide the well-to-do owners of his viewers, with dramatic evening entertainment. His framed photographs, with the reverse hand-painted in color by artists, the color protected by cheese cloth attached to the back of the frame, could be shown as normal daylight views. At night, with an oil lamp behind the photo, it could be seen as a color or night view. Color photography had not been invented, therefore Ponti's device provided the first public viewing of "colored pictures." The inventor's instructions for the use of the Megaletoscopio said everything in one sentence about the small (affluent) market for his product "... while the master or madam is watching the pictures in the evening... their man-servant is changing the pictures." Every square inch of this magnificent and incredibly rare Italian photographic viewer is covered with inlaid ivory. The smooth yellowish-white ivory was cut from African elephant tusks. There was no protection for elephants as there is today, and the supply of tusks must have seemed inexhaustible to Italian artists of the 19th Century. Ivory was normally used for piano keys, knife handles and decorative works of art and sculpture and also for miniature paintings called ivorytypes. Ivory was used for intricate carvings, but the extraordinary use for inlaid ivory carvings, designs and motifs, such as exist on this Megaletoscopio, its stand and marble top cabinet is virtually unknown. It is one of a kind. The Ivory Megaletoscopio was acquired in Milan in 1938 by Americans George and Martha Stoll. She was a Hollywood actress and he, for 35 years, was Music Director for MGM and won the 1945 Academy Award for his musical score for Anchors Aweigh. He also created the scores for Meet Me in St. Louis and The Wizard of Oz. The Ivory Megaletoscopio was acquired for the Naylor Collection about a decade ago. The Ivory Megaletoscopio is accompanied by approximately 29 of original Carlo Ponti framed photographs with hand-painted versos for use in the device. The instrument measures 36" x 24" x 16". The sits atop its matching cabinet where the framed images are contained. Overall height is approx. 60". A detailed four-page plus front cover article about the Ivory Megaletoscopio appears in the Journal, New England Journal of Photographic History, Fall-Winter, 2002. 
 
 
  

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