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Diorama Words, Terms, and Definitions

Here are a variety of different diorama terms, words and definitions. The actual use and meaning of the word has changed and evolved over the past couple of centuries.


Diorama: A full size, or miniature model of a scene that is to scale. Often dioramas are small but sometimes, as in museums they are full size or a scale of 1:1. There are many variations of dioramas and the definition is a bit flexible but generally it has to be three dimensional and depict a scene with multiple objects. The goal of the diorama is usually to show a whole scene or system.


A Daugerre Diorama

Daugerre Diorama: This is a bit of a different use of the word diorama although it has many similarities. It was a type of entertainment in Major cities in Europe in the 19th century. Picture it as a kind of opera house where the patrons would view a large painting or landscape. And it would change and evolve before their eyes. Sometimes the building would even rotate and after viewing one scene the audience would then view another scene.



A shoebox diorama

Shoebox Diorama - This is a modern term that refers to a diorama that is well, made inside a shoebox! Kind of obvious. But it is a little bit loose and it can be in any kind of box that is about the size of a shoebox. One of the important things about this is that it forms a small enclosure. Some dioramas are simply built onto a flat base. But the shoebox diorama is built inside an enclosure. The picture here shows a shoebox diorama with a scene of a knight and a dragon.

I have a tutorial on how to make this exact diorama including how to hang the dragon so it looks like it is flying: Make a Dragon and Knight Shoebox Diorama


Japanese Paper Diorama - (Tatebanko)

Paper diorama

In the 17th Century with the increased availability of paper the Japanese did a lot of different things with paper including the making of small scenes or dioramas. These typically were enclosed inside a paper box. I have a whole series of tatebanko paper diorama projects here

The picture shown here is of a famous japanese drawing that was transformed into a paper diorama.

Bonkei - This is the Japanese art of miniature scenes and it means "Tray Landscape". It is done in a wide and shallow tray and almost always depicts some kind of a natural landscape which can contain trees, rocks, cliffs, even water ways and small figures. It is similar to the Japanese art of Saikei which is a landscape with living things like plants.

An architectural diorama

Architectural Dioramas - The art of building miniatures is something that is often done in the field of architecture. We all have seen various architectural buildings in minature. But they also will make dioramas that will depict a variety of buildings or a whole scene that could encompass a city. This type of diorama shows the layout and relationship of the various buildings within a group. Sometimes the buildings are simply squares and rectangles so they can be shown in relation to each other and in relation to the landscape. The picture at left is an architectural diorama.


Some Famous Dioramas and Diorama Makers

Gottstein - He made a series of Dioramas referred to as "the Gottstein Dioramas". He was a wealthy furrier who lived from 1892-1951 and an avid collector of small tin figures called Tin Flats. He used these to create some now famous dioramas. These are some of the earliest examples of what we consider to be the modern day diorama. They were made in the 1930's.

Denny Stokes was a diorama maker around 1956-1957 who made several different dioramas for museums. They were of varied scenes including a castle scene and a fur trading station.



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