Recreations in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, Plate II


“Plate II” presents two figures, both of which refer to a sedan-chair style camera obscura in which a person can comfortably sit. Figure 7 is a view of the interior of this alternative camera obscura, “a machine shaped almost like a hackney chair” (J. Ozanam, Recreations, 178), in which exterior images from all around the machine can be projected onto an interior surface using a rotating mirror for reproduction. It can also be used to reproduce paintings and prints with great accuracy. Along with instruction for the assembly of this camera obscura, Figure 8 shows a tube that is bent at both ends, constructed specifically to allow air but not light into the chamber.

Primary Works: 

Recreations in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in Four Volumes

Accession Number: 

CA 8397

Height (in centimeters): 


Width (in centimeters): 


Marks Description: 

Inscr. top left with “Vol. II,” top right with “Optics Pl. II,” and lower right with “Mutlow, Sc Russell Co.”

Printing Context: 

“Plate II” appears in Charles Hutton’s translation of Jacques Ozanam’s Recreations in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in Four Volumes.

Associated Events: 

Charles Hutton, LL.D. and F.R.S. (1737–1823): British, Hutton received the Copley Medal from the Royal Society of London in 1778 for his papers on the physics of velocity. He resigned from the Royal Society in 1784 over a dispute about the role of mathematics in the organization.

Associated People: 

Jacques Ozanam (1640-1717): a French mathematician and author of the original text of Recreations in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in Four Volumes.

Charles Hutton, LL.D. and F.R.S. (1737–1823): a British Professor of Mathematics at the Royal Military Academy and translator of Ozanam’s text in 1803.

Jean Étienne Montucla (1725–1799): a French mathematician who revised and expanded Ozanam’s text in 1778 and 1709 editions (B. Stafford, Artful Science 56).

William-James Gravesande (1688-1742): French mathematician and author of An Essay on Perspective, translated into English and published in 1724.

Associated Places: 

Charles Hutton taught at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, England and was elected a member of the Royal Society of London on June 16, 1773.

Jacques Ozanam was elected a member of the Académie des Sciences in 1701.

Hutton mentions the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, England, which has a room-sized camera obscura on top, in the revised text (J. Ozanam and C. Hutton, Recreations in Mathematics 183).

Associated Texts: 

Ozanam’s original text was published in Paris 1694. In addition to Hutton’s translation and revision of the text in 1803, which was reissued in 1814, Montucla’s revised and expanded editions were published in Paris in 1778 and 1709, and E. Riddle published yet another edition, entitled Recreations in Science and Natural Philosophy, in London in 1844. A version of the image on “Plate II” appears in William-James Gravesande’s An Essay on Perspective, which was translated into English and published in 1724.


As evidenced in the sustained revision, expansion, and republication of Jacques Ozanam’s original work on recreational experiments from the late seventeenth century to the nineteenth, optical technologies and rational experiments stimulated the Romantic visual imagination and reinforced the emphasis on edification and self-improvement through efforts at practical education in the domestic sphere. This illustration of the sedan-chair style of camera obscura, in which a single person could obscure himself, is accompanied by instructions on how to construct the apparatus in the text.


Experiments in physical science; optical instruments and their effects


As discussed by Barbara Maria Stafford, Hutton’s translated text aligns with the increased interest in rational recreations, popular leisure pursuits which were intended to simultaneously entertain and intellectually edify young people. Recreations in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy is an example of the rapid popularization of these recreational texts in the Romantic period, particularly for use in the domestic space. As noted by Helen Groth, in the nineteenth century the domestic arena “becomes a space of productive labor, where the mind of the child is actively shaped by the rationalizing energies of the family dedicated to the principles of useful knowledge” (H. Groth, “Domestic Phantasmagoria” 161). The ability not only to enjoy the illusions produced by camera obscuras, magic lanterns, and other optical devices, but, importantly, to distinguish the illusory from the real was paramount to the rational recreations agenda.

The sedan-chair style camera obscura illustrated here is heavily implicated in a revision of Jonathan Crary’s contentions concerning the disembodied vision facilitated by the apparatus and its ability to remove the viewer bodily from the scene on display, here projected neatly onto a tabletop (a similar sedan-chair camera obscura is reproduced in J. Crary, Techniques of the Observer 28). Not only does this type of camera obscura allow the observer to obscure him or herself within it, but it also accommodates only one person at a time, furthering the effect of isolated viewing. This contrasts strongly with a portion of the text of Recreations in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy—a remark obviously added by the Englishman Hutton—that describes the camera obscura on top of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. The appropriate venue for a properly edifying and entertaining outing, this room-sized camera obscura was “capable of containing five or six persons, all viewing the exhibition together. All the motions of the glasses are easily performed by one of the persons within, by means of attached rods; and the images are thrown on a large and smooth concave table, cast of plaster of Paris, and moveable up and down so as to suit the distances of the objects” (J. Ozanam and C. Hutton, Recreations in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy 183).

As can be seen from this description, the camera obscura on top of the Royal Observatory, intended for a group of observers, functions quite differently than the sedan-chair style apparatus as a metaphor of vision. Rather than the isolated spectator obscured within the space of the camera obscura, the Royal Observatory creates a collective, public experience for viewing. The communal aspect of the Royal Observatory camera obscura, as well as the ability to move the projected image to achieve different views, more closely resembles the nineteenth-century diorama, cited by Crary as exemplary of “the ‘uprooting’ of vision from the more inflexible representational system of the camera obscura” (J. Crary, Techniques of the Observer 113). Thus, although the image of the sedan-chair camera obscura reiterates Crary’s contentions, the text of Recreations in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy offers an opportunity to expand on the camera obscura as a model of vision in the Romantic period.


A text on how to create optical instruments for recreational scientific experiments.


Crary, Jonathan. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990.

Groth, Helen. “Domestic Phantasmagoria: The Victorian Literary Domestic and Experimental Visuality.” South Atlantic Quarterly 108.1 (Winter 2009): 147-169.

Guicciardini, Niccolò. “Hutton, Charles (1737–1823).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. 19 Mar. 2009

Hammond, John. H. The Camera Obscura: A Chronicle. Bristol, UK: Adam Hilger, Ltd., 1981.

“Memoir of the Late Dr. Hutton.” Gentleman's Magazine. (March 1823): 228. Access: British Periodicals. ProQuest, L.L.C., 2006-2009. 2 March 2009

O'Connor, John J. and Edmund F. Robertson. "Jacques Ozanam." MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive. Ed. John J. O’Connor and Edmund F. Robertson. St. Andrews, Scotland: JOC/EFR August 2005. 19 March 2009

Ozanam, Jacques. Recreations in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in Four Volumes. 1694. Trans. Charles Hutton. London: Printed for G. Kearsley by T. Davison, 1803.

Stafford, Barbara Maria. Artful Science: Enlightenment, Entertainment, and the Eclipse of Visual Education. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994.

--- . “Revealing Technologies/Magical Domains.” Devices of Wonder: From the World in a Box to Images on a Screen. Ed. Barbara Maria Stafford and Frances Terpak. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2001. 1-115.

Warner, Marina. “Camera Ludica.” Eyes, Lies and Illusions: The Art of Deception. Ed. Laurent Mannoni, Werner Nekes, and Marina Warner. London: Hayward Gallery/Lund Humphries, 2004. 13-23.

Long Title: 

Jacques Ozanam, Recreations in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in Four Volumes, Plate II: Camera Obscura, engraving, 21.8 x 13.5 cm, inscr. top left with “Vol. II,” top right with “Optics Pl. II,” and lower right with “Mutlow, Sc Russell Co.,” UW Department of Special Collections.