Cups & Balls: A Revelation from 1634


Looking for something else on the World Wide Wonderweb, I came about this interesting image of Hocus Pocus Junior and his famous revelatory book, The Anatomy of Legerdemain, or, The Art of Jugling, first published in 1634. Across the title page, there is a depiction of the artist in action and with his props (see above).

Now have a closer look at the hands and at the cups on the table:


It seems that this image is much more than just an arbitrary illustration for any magic book. First, I think, it’s a surprisingly accurate “freeze shot” of the very moment before the magic is going to happen: The right hand with the wand will tap the closed left hand, that hand will open and display – nothing! The ball that was supposed to be in the fist will be seen to have disappeared.

Where to? Well, the image also tells us this “clearly”: By displaying the top cup as if it were transparent (they didn’t use drinking glasses for magic back then), we can see where the ball is actually hidden and where it may reappear any moment now!

Could this be the first very accurate magic illustration and how-to instruction on a book’s cover (or frontispiece), I wonder?



A War Fought with Playing Cards

Holger Steigerwald has pointed fellow magic historians towards an interesting piece of academic research on 17th century English playing cards. It was written and published as a diploma thesis (in German) by Florian Völkerer at the University of Vienna in 2018. Its title can be translated as “Playing with Memories. On the Exploitation of the Spanish Armada on 17th Century English Playing Cards.” It is available for download in PDF format here.

Völkerer Playing Card Spanish Armada

Here’s the English abstract from the author:

The thesis deals with a set of english playing cards from 1679 depicting the events of the Spanish Armada. After a number of supplementary investigations it attempts to identify the narrative conveyed by the cards, as well as to address the probable reasons why this narrative was constructed in a specific manner. Main results are that the production and distribution of the cards appears to be closely linked to the english exclusion crisis, during which the cards where part of the anglican propaganda-effort against the catholic James II. The narrative therefore serves as an historical argument in the political debate and is consequently constructed in a distinctly anti-catholic manner. While staying close to the facts for most of the time, it differs from our current knowledge about the Spanish Armada mainly in overemphasizing the impact of the actual fighting (and therefore of the english fleet) on the eventual outcome of the events. Furthermore, the role of individual actors is put into focus, to the extent that the whole campaign appears almost as a personal squabble between Elizabeth I. and the pope. Thereby the historical events are used as an allegorical depiction of the struggle of anglican England against a counter reformatory catholicism led and controlled by the pope, while the depiction of Elizabeth I. serves as a stark contrast to James II. The playing cards investigated in this thesis therefore show exemplary how historical narratives can be shaped and used to construct arguments in contemporary political debates.

Layers of Layers of Bosch

Since listening to Dr. Steffen Taut‘s fascinating talk on recent research findings about Jheronimus Bosch‘s (?) famous painting, The Juggler, at the latest EMHC, I have spent quite a bit of time on the wonderful website of the Bosch Project, and I’d urge you to check it out, too!

It takes a moment to load the huge amount of data, but then they will guide you inch by inch into and through the surreal world of Bosch. These data do not only give you the Bosch paintings in amazing detail and scan quality; in the interactive section, they also feature the underdrawings made visible through infrared and X-rays, so you can compare drafts and finalizations, various styles, etc.


Here are some examples what the screen image looks like when you play around with the various visible layers of the painting:









Now have a look at some of the fine details. I actually doubt that you could see and identify them so well when standing before the original painting in the museum of Saint-Germain-en-Laye!

By the way, I have always marveled at the modern red hat of the woman spectator on the left. Doesn’t it look like a 20th century creation?!


Here’s the detail of the cut-purse in action. Note how well you can see the shining tip of the blade.


More details, discoveries and thoughts on this painting to come!


More on Magic and Art

In recent weeks, I have expanded the MAGIC ART section on this site a bit. New entries feature the wonderful and diverse talents of artists–many of them also magicians–like Jonathan Allen, Tango Gao, Tommervik, Jay Fortune, Asi Wind, Antonio Cabral, and Vanni Pulé.

Take a look!


Fun Friday: Recognition for the Bierglas Effect

According to the latest buzz from overseas, card wizard and beer connoisseur Denis Behr has just been inducted into the Magic Beer Hall of Fame in Shaumkron, Illinois!

The press photo(shopped) below shows the inductee silently admiring snapshots from his own masterpiece, the world-famous Bierglas Effect (sadly often misspelled as “Berglas”), while soothing Herbert, the slightly envious rubber-band, inside his left pocket.

Congratulations, Denis, und Prost!

Denis Behr Instagram Pictures (selected, hijacked and recomposed by Zig Zagger)


Words and Thoughts on Wonder

Speaking of interviews, science magician and professional speaker Dr. Matt Pritchard from the UK runs a fine, scholarly website which I have been pointed to only very recently. In his own words, the site’s concept is quite simple:

I interview a host of creatives, magicians and scientists about their work and how they cultivate & share wonder. They are all people who have inspired me in my own work or just made me go “Wow!”

The 70+ interviews are a treasure trove of interesting people with fascinating ideas or areas of expertise. Advice: Do not only hunt for the magicians! (But make sure to read R. Paul Wilson.)

Highly recommended!

Website Screenshot


Jay Fortune zaubert Porträtbilder

Der Brite Jay Fortune ist ehemaliger Profizauberer, der sich inzwischen u.a. der Malerei verschrieben hat. Einige seiner Porträts großer Zauberkünstler mit Kohle oder Tinte nach bekannten Fotomotiven sind sehr gelungen und zu fairen Preisen in seinem Online-Shop zu erwerben.

Vernon-Porträt von Jay Fortune (Website Screenshot)

Addendum 04.09.2019:

Jay Fortune und sein Schwenk vom Zauberprofi zum Profimaler sind Gegenstand eines Interviews in der aktuellen Ausgabe des Magicseen Magazins. Der Artikel ist hier online abrufbar.


Georges Méliès, the Painter

Elsewhere I have already written (in German) about a fine recent art exhibition in Munich and Aachen on “Lust for Deception”–and thus manipulating perception–through the centuries. (You can see some pictures here.) It was a fitting tribute to include magician and movie pioneer Georges Méliès with a number of short, deceptive stop-trick clips which ran nonstop on a special screen.

But later, I was much more surprised to discover an amazing painting by the same artist in the huge trompe l’oeil section. I must admit that I had not been aware of his other immense talent. Had you? His “Self-Portrait of the Artist” (below, exact date unknown) certainly deserves special mention, both out of itself and in the light of his real/reel profession.

Web Screenshot

I have asked The Great Googelini for advice, but even he could not conjure up a significant number of other “traditional” paintings by Méliès. But as I learned here, he apparently aspired to work as a painter early on. Instead, he became a magician and a visionary pioneer of filmmaking who painted his own fanciful scenery and smokescreens.

And, as they say, the rest is history.

Addendum 26.08.2019:

As I’ve just learned from French fellow magician and Méliès expert Frédéric Tabet at EMHC, the attribution of this painting to him (Méliès, that is) is highly questionable in the light of recent research. For example, the person depicted does not even remotely look like Méliès, nor does the signature match… So let’s be careful here!

By the way, Frédéric has an academic book out (in French) about Méliès and the relations of magic techniques and cinema in its early years. If you can read French fluently, you may want to check this out.


Die Stiftung Zauberkunst lädt ein

Bild: Stiftung Zauberkunst

Zum einjährigen Bestehen lädt die von Uwe Schenk und Michael Sondermeyer initiierte Stiftung Zauberkunst für Mitte November zu einer Fachtagung nach Appelhülsen ein.

Die beiden schreiben:

Grundsätzliches zur Tagung

Schon vor der Stiftungsgründung hatten wir überlegt, dass wir mehr Menschen aktivieren möchten, sich bei den Überlegungen und Planungen bezüglich der Perspektiven der Stiftung Zauberkunst zu beteiligen. Letztlich war die Trennung des Projektes von unseren Personen ja sogar der Hauptgrund für die Stiftungsgründung.

Nachdem wir nun knapp ein halbes Jahr aktiv sind, unsere erste Steuererklärung gemacht und gemeinsam mit dem Stiftungsrat erste Schritte in Richtung aktiver Stiftungstätigkeit unternommen haben, planen wir zurzeit die weitere konkrete Vorgehensweise.

Wir haben im Rahmen der Stiftungsgründung einige Zauberfreunde gebeten, als Fachbeirat zu fungieren und uns eben bei solchen Überlegungen zu unterstützen. Es gestaltet sich jedoch schwierig, für einen halben Tag alle unsere Wunschkandidaten nach Appelhülsen zu bekommen, und falls einige nicht können, ist die Teilnehmerzahl schnell sehr gering. Zudem haben wir auf dem Sammlertreffen die Erfahrung gemacht, dass eine größere Gruppe von Interessierten, die an der Diskussion beteiligt werden, auch eine größere Bandbreite an Ideen und Gedanken produzieren.

Deshalb möchten wir in einem nächsten Schritt Interessierte zu einer Fachtagung einladen, die von uns und den Mitgliedern des Beirates vorbereitet wird und in der es um die zukünftige Arbeit der Stiftung Zauberkunst  geht – sowohl organisatorisch als auch inhaltlich.

Damit sich die Anreise lohnt, möchten wir am Freitag Abend mit einem informellen Treffen im Zauberzentrum beginnen, den Samstag ganz der Beratung widmen (s.u.), Abends evtl. gemeinsam essen gehen (oder weiter arbeiten) und den Sonntag Vormittag für Unerledigtes oder andere Dinge nutzen.

Freitag, den 15.11. 2019 bis Sonntag, dem 17.11. 2019

Der Termin ist so gewählt, dass er quasi als Jahrestag der Stiftung gelten kann. Insofern ist ein Bericht über das erste Jahr auf jeden Fall ein wichtiger Tagesordnungspunkt – darüber hinaus geht es aber vor allem um die Zukunft.

Programmideen und Beteiligung

Neben Informationen über das Geschehene möchten wir uns mit den Teilnehmern über Ideen, Vorschläge und Anregungen zur weiteren Arbeit der Stiftung austauschen. In der Diskussionsrunde beim Sammlertreffen sind schon einige Punkte genannt worden, die wir gerne vertiefen möchten:

  • Bezüglich der Arbeit des Dokumentationszentrum: Schaffen eines Recherchetools und eines Infopools zu anderen Quellenorten (Vernetzung)
  • Bezüglich der Zielgruppe “Nichtzauberer”: Ansehen der Zauberkunst in der Wissenschaft/Forschung implementieren und Kulturgeschichtliche Dimension betonen
  • Bezüglich des Nutzen des Projektes für den “Nachwuchs”: Universitäre Ausbildung und/oder Online-Schule
  • Grundsätzliche Vorgehensweisen und Ziele: Internationalisieren (Engl./Deutsch); Interessierte in anderen Ländern ansprechen; Zusammenarbeit mit  Zaubervereinen verstärken; Zauberkunst an das allgemeine Publikum bringen

Darüberhinaus gibt es neben diesen und den organisatorischen Dingen (Finanzierung, Örtlichkeit, Inventarisierung und Digitalisierung etc.) weitere Themenbereiche, die besprochen werden sollen: Welchen inhaltlichen Themen soll sich die Stiftung widmen? Welche Veranstaltungen sind sinnvoll und machbar? Welche Publikationen sollen veröffentlicht werden? u.v.m.

Vielleicht gibt es von Eurer Seite weitere Vorschläge oder Anregungen, die wir gerne in das Programm aufnehmen.

Rückmeldung erbeten

Bitte sagt uns kurz Bescheid, ob Ihr Interesse daran habt, an diesem Treffen teilzunehmen und merkt schon mal den Termin vor – die konkrete Einladung mit der Möglichkeit zur verbindlichen Anmeldung wollen wir im Frühsommer veröffentlichen.

Euch eine schöne Zeit und zauberhafte Grüße aus Appelhülsen

Für den Stiftungsrat • Michael Sondermeyer und Uwe Schenk


Ich freue mich schon auf den Austausch und hoffe, künftig den einen oder anderen Beitrag für die Stiftung leisten zu können!


In the Conjuror’s Kitchen

Website screenshot

Some of you will remember that a few years back Annabel de Vetten ran a shop that featured her graphic magic art: black-white-red pop art renditions of Vernon, Mandrake and other luminaries. (In fact, I dedicated a very early blog entry to her snappy paintings but neglected to buy one, stupid me!) She had also created the cutting-edge designed “Jill Deck” with Card-Shark Christian Schenk back then. Sadly, she seemed to have closed that business when she turned to magic edible art. Upon her own wedding (to a magician, would you have guessed?) she made her own magic wedding cake. But that turn in career was not only a loss. Under the label “Conjuror’s Kitchen” she creates the most magical and spooky sweet stuff I have ever seen.

Look at the above screenshot from her website: Wouldn’t you love to have such a classy cake at your next big celebration, either at home or at the magic club?! And even better, produce it from your dusted-off Square Circle or Super Dove Pan? I certainly would!

Don’t be shy. Her website portrait claims, “If you can eat it, she can warp it into some form you’ve never dreamed of.” As she further states, “Our favourite conversations start with, ‘Now, …this might sound a little weird…’

Excuse me for a minute, I do need some chocolate now!