AskDefine | Define diorama

Dictionary Definition

diorama n : a picture (or series of pictures) representing a continuous scene [syn: panorama, cyclorama]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A three-dimensional display of a scenery, often having a painted background in front of which models are arranged, e.g. in a museum where stuffed animals are presented against a painted landscape.


A three-dimensional display of a scenery

Extensive Definition

The word diorama can refer either to a nineteenth century mobile theatre device, or, in modern usage, a three-dimensional model, usually enclosed in a glass showcase for a museum.

Daguerre's Diorama

The Diorama was a popular entertainment in Paris, England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1822 to 1880. An alternative to the also popular "Panorama" (panoramic painting), the Diorama was a theatrical experience viewed by an audience in a highly specialized theatre. As many as 350 patrons would file in to view a landscape painting that would change its appearance both subtly and dramatically. Most would stand, though limited seating was provided. The show lasted 10 to 15 minutes, after which time the entire audience (on a massive turntable) would rotate to view a second painting. Later models of the Diorama theater even held a third painting.
The size of the proscenium was 24 feet wide by 21 feet high (7.3 meters x 6.4 meters). Each scene was hand-painted on linen, which was made transparent in selected areas. A series of these multi-layered, linen panels were arranged in a deep, truncated tunnel, then illuminated by re-directed sunlight. Depending on the direction and intensity of the skillfully manipulated light, the scene would appear to change. The effect was so subtle and finely rendered that both critics and the public were astounded, believing they were looking at a natural scene.
The inventor and proprietor of the Diorama was Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), formerly a decorator, manufacturer of mirrors, painter of Panoramas, and masterly designer and painter of theatrical stage illusions. Daguerre would later co-invent the daguerreotype, the first widely used method of photography.
A small scale version of the diorama called the Polyrama Panoptique could display images in the home and was marketed from the 1820s.
A diorama painted by Daguerre is currently housed in the church of the French town Bry-sur-Marne, where he lived and died .

The modern diorama

The current, popular understanding of the term “Diorama” denotes a partially three-dimensional, full-size replica or scale model of a landscape typically showing historical events, nature scenes or cityscapes, for purposes of education or entertainment. Frank M. Chapman, a curator at the American Museum of Natural History during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, helped popularize the style commonly seen today.
Modern “Museum Dioramas” may be seen in most major natural history museums. Typically, these displays use a tilted plane to represent what would otherwise be a level surface, a painted background of distant objects, and often employ false perspective, carefully modifying the scale of objects placed on the plane to reinforce the illusion through depth perception of viewing a larger space—representations of objects (of identical real-world size) placed further from the observer are smaller than those closer. Often the distant painted background or sky will be painted upon a continuous curved surface so that the viewer is not distracted by corners, seams, or edges. All of these techniques are means of presenting a realistic view of a large scene in a compact space. A photograph or single-eye view of such a diorama can be especially convincing since in this case there is no distraction by the binocular perception of depth.
Miniature dioramas are used to represent scenes from historic events (e.g., tin soldiers arranged in a display depicting a famous battle). A typical example of this type are the dioramas to be seen at the Norges Hjemmefrontmuseum (Norwegian Resistance Museum) in Oslo, Norway.
Room boxes and other doll housing can also be considered dioramas. So too, the landscapes built around model railways, although they often have to compromise scale accuracy for better operating characteristics.
One of the largest Dioramas ever created was a model of the entire state of California built for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and that for a long time was installed in San Francisco's Ferry Building.

References in popular culture


diorama in Bulgarian: Диорама
diorama in Catalan: Diorama
diorama in Czech: Diorama
diorama in German: Diorama
diorama in Spanish: Diorama
diorama in French: Diorama
diorama in Italian: Diorama (arte)
diorama in Hungarian: Dioráma
diorama in Dutch: Diorama (kijkkast)
diorama in Japanese: ジオラマ
diorama in Norwegian: Diorama
diorama in Portuguese: Diorama (arte)
diorama in Russian: Диорама
diorama in Finnish: Dioraama
diorama in Swedish: Diorama
diorama in Thai: ไดโอรามา

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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