Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 321: M.M. Maffey and the Spectacle du Petit Lazari

Part 321: M.M. Maffey and the Spectacle du Petit Lazari
I just had to dig a bit deeper about the first show with Daguerre’s paintings as I was really curious about M. M. Maffey. Why had Daguerre selected Maffey to market his dioramas in America? What skills did he bring to the table? How was Maffey an asset? After a bit of digging through French publications from the 1820s, I believe that it was his puppetry skills – the movement that occurred behind the translucent sections of the paintings, as they were backlit. They incorporated a type of shadow puppetry. I believe that the backlit figures were painted paper puppets where you could see the detail clearly in translucent sections. I had encountered similar transparencies used by Volland & Toomey for their Scottish Rite scenes. For example, Jesus was painted on paper and lightly glued to the back of a translucent sky section.
View of backside of Scottish Rite drop in Quincy, Illinois, with the front light bleeding through to the backside.
It’s just that some of the figures moved. In short, Maffey assisted backstage during the show, while Lonati worked the front lights. Plus, Lonati, would be in the house during the performance. Maffey was the perfect person to have on board and backstage.
You see, there was an “M. M. Maffey” associated with Spectacle du Petit Lazari in Paris on boulevard du Temple during the 1820s. In 1823, Journal De Paris et des Départmens Politique, Commercial et Littéraire published numerous shows at Spectacle du Petit Lazari de M. M. Maffey, every day from six to nine (Tous les jours, depuis six heures jusqu’a neuf).
Mention of M. M. Maffey and his connection with Theater de Petit Lazuri during the 1820s.
The following information was published in Journal De Paris et des Départmens Politique, Commercial et Littéraire – (three issues: 8 septembre, 13 septembre, et 24 octobre 1823):
1. Werewolf (Loup garou)
2. A Point of View of Naples (un point de Vue de Naples)
3. Harlequin King in the Moon (Arlequin roi dans la Lune)
4. A Point of View of Mexico (un point de vue de Mexico)
5. Pulcinella Vampire, or the Sybille de Balzora, parody (Polichiuelle Vampire, ou la Sybille de Balzora, parodie)
As I continued my search for Maffy, I stumbled across a wonderful book – John McCormick’s “Popular Theatres of Nineteenth-century France” (1993, page 42-43). Here is the paragraph in its entirety as it gives a little more context. McCormick wrote, “There is an interesting document of 1837 in the Archives Nationales from the Brothers Maffey, requesting permission to open ‘Gymnase maritime et pittoresque’ (presumably some form of panorama specializing in sea-scapes – the term Gymnase implies a vaguely educative function. In it Maffey mentions traveling in France and abroad, and then returning to Paris in 1820 and setting up in a little theatre on the boulevard du Temple, which they called the Petit Lazari. The document says: “the genre which we have been exploiting from father to son for fifty years is simply a fantoccini show [i.e.string marionettes] and mechanical views after the fashion of Citizen Pierre [proprietor of a famous ‘spectacle mécanique’ on the boulevard. They also described themselves, currently, as “artistes mécaniciens’, a common term to cover many sorts of showmen, including puppeteers. Other references to the Maffeys are few.”
McCormick writes that Maffey claimed to have a license in 1822 for their performances at the Petit Lazari, and by 1824, the performances at their Spectacle du Petit Lazari moved beyond puppet shows and into Acrobates and Funambules. So, the 1823 shows were likely titles for puppet shows. After a brief closure, McCormick noted that in 1825, the venue reopened as a puppet theatre and then disappeared from the “Almanach des Spectacles” until 1830 when it established a troupe of live actors playing parodies, farces and melodramas.
So Maffey, as a puppeteer, would have been a great asset to both the manufacture and tour of “Daguerre’s Dioramas” as they were backlit to reveal the second scene with movement. Maffey’s presence behind the scene would suggest the movement with opaque figures, or flat puppets. We know that applying a translucent section of a backdrop will reveal either painted images, or pasted prints/paintings. Backlighting the scene reveals the hidden subject on the backside. The same principle would be applied to flat printed, or painted, puppet that moved across a translucent section. This would explain the movement of high priests in the Temple of Solomon, or floating gondolas in the Venice compositions previously mentioned.
I thought back to my MA thesis that explored the Japanese Influence on French Symbolist Theatre. Twenty-five years ago, I was examining the work of the Nabis toward the end of the twentieth century, the Chat Noir Theatre, and some theatrical productions of shadow puppetry that appeared incredibly innovative for the time. However, the idea of shadow puppets in the nineteenth century was nothing new.
To be continued…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *