Part 320: King Solomon’s Temple
In New Orleans during 1842, there was an advertisement for Daguerre’s “Chemical Pictures…representing the wonderful effects of Day and Night – (Oil Painting) – and which, by modifying the light upon the picture, exhibits two entirely distinct representations upon the same canvas” (The Times-Picayune, 20 Dec. 1842, page 3). By this time there were four scenes touring with the exhibitions:
1. The Sicilian Vespers, or Palermo in 1292! – A Graphic Episode
2. The “charming” Valley of Goldau, in Switzerland
3. The “admired and unrivalled” Interior of the Church St. Etienne du Mont, at Paris representing a Midnight Mass
4. The “magnificent view” of the City of Venice on a Festival Night.
A few things are happening at the same time as M.M. Maffey & Lonati’s show of chemical paintings reaches New Orleans. First and foremost – their show is imitated and there are now two sets of exhibitions with competing proprietors. In the same 1842 New Orleans newspaper, there was another advertisement for a similar exhibition just below Daguerre’s Chemical Pictures. The competition advertised, “the beautiful and magnificent paintings copied from those of the celebrated Daguerre, whose illustrative, wonderful and magic powers have been subject of great admiration through all Europe.” There were extremely detailed descriptions of transformation scenes in the Times-Picayune (20 Dec. 1842, page 3) depicting:
1. The Inauguration of Solomon’s Temple
2. The Falling Down in the Valley of Goldau (Switzerland)
3. The Interior of St. Stephen’s Church
By 1843, the competitors added a fourth painting – “The Interior of the Monastery of Mount Serrat, in Catalonia” (The Times-Picayune 15 Jan 1843, page 3).
I kept returning to the inauguration of Solomon’s Temple – what an appropriate introduction for New Orleans considering its Masonic lineage. It is important to remember that the construction of King Solomon’s Temple and the assassination of its chief architect Hiram, play a prominent role in the degree work in Freemasonry. This historical tale was reenacted and expanded with additional events surrounding King Solomon’s Temple on nineteenth-century Masonic stages.
Keep in mind that membership in Freemasonry and other organizations perceived as “secret societies” greatly diminished after a period of anti-Masonic sentiment, commencing in the 1820s. The decline of membership and change in societal attitudes is often attributed to an event called the Morgan Affair. To very briefly explain this event, Morgan is abducted after planning to publish Masonic secrets. His disappearance and presumed death were attributed to the Freemasons. Not all areas of the country suffer a devastating membership loss. Some regions only were subject to a minor decline in membership. There are some Masonic lodges that remained open during this period as others are forced to close their doors. Eventually, the Fraternity began to resurge by the end of the 1840s.
The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) advertised the King Solomon scene as one of four “Grand Diorama!” (December 29, 1842, page 3). “An Exhibition as yet never known in this city – This day, will be exhibited the beautiful and magnificent paintings, copied from those of the celebrated Daguerre, whose illusive, wonderful and magic powers have been subject to great admiration through all Europe.” The first painting in the set described in the advertisement was “The Inauguration of Solomon’s Temple.” Here is the description:
“This painting represents the magnificent Temple of Solomon, son of David, which he caused to be erected in Jerusalem. Seen in the daytime, it exhibits to the spectacular the richness and elegance of its exterior architecture.
The same Painting soon after passes through all the modifications of light: then night comes on, (effects obtained by the decomposition of light, a new process of painting invented by Daguerre,) the Temple appears illuminated interiorly by degrees, reflecting a bright light exteriorly, which discovers a great multitude of people flocking to adore the Ark of the Covenant, which the High Priest has deposited in the Tabernacle.”
From December 1842 until March of 1843, there were twenty-seven advertisements for King Solomon’s Temple. If I were a Mason and witnessed the aforementioned scenic effects at the end of a room, I might envision the possibilities during degree work. Especially if the an exterior view of King Solomon’s Temple transformed into the interior and then revealed the Ark of the Covenant, I would want to share this vision with my fellow Masons. This was a group, after all, that was already familiar with lighting effects that revealed hidden symbols and objects painted on fabric and backlit, as described for the Rite of Perfection (the basis of the Scottish Rite that originated in France).
To be continued…