Colonial Williamsburg® The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

Page content
Reset text sizeResize text larger

January 2, 2001

"Peep Show!" to offer a new perspective on decorative arts at CW

Grab your viewmaster–it’s time for "PEEP SHOW! Panoramas of
the Past." This fascinating collection of 18th- and 19th-century
viewing devices and perspective prints will be on display at Colonial
Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum in the newly renovated
print gallery June 9, 2001- May 27, 2002.

Long before VCRs and cable television, visual entertainment consisted
of viewing landscape scenes known as perspective prints. The viewings,
often referred to as "peep shows," were a far cry from the form
of entertainment we associate with that phrase today. They were intended
both to amuse and educate people about the world around them and they
served as mementos of exotic lands either visited or imagined.

Popular in major European cities such as London, Paris and Amsterdam,
perspective prints illustrated a variety of settings and historical landmarks.
To see them properly required the use of specialized viewing devices that
exaggerated the perspective and enabled the viewer to see the image at
eye-level. The most popular of these devices was the perspective glass–known
as an optique, zograscope or diagonal mirror, to name but a few–which
resembled a handheld mirror.

One of the more intriguing variations of the prints themselves involved
piercing elements of the scenes, such as windows or stars. The print’s
reverse side often was decorated with paper, paint or varnish to mask
the perforations. The positioning of a candle behind the print caused
the pinpricks to light up, creating the illusion of nighttime for the

"PEEP SHOW!" will reveal nearly 50 objects from our permanent
collections," said Laura Pass Barry, Colonial Williamsburg’s assistant
curator of prints, maps and wallpaper and curator of the exhibition. "Visitors
will see landscape prints, backlit perforated prints and accordion panoramas.
They even will get to use a perspective glass and print--or ‘vue d’optique’
as they were commonly known–set up so they can experience firsthand
this popular form of 18th- century entertainment."

Media Contact:
Sophia C. Hart
(757) 220-7272