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A short History of Dioramas and Miniature scenes

Where did miniature scenes get their start?

The Word Diorama: The actual word was coined by Daugerre in 1822. He was famous for creating the Daugerrotype process of photography.

The art of miniature figures and landscapes has been around a very long time. In Japan the art of miniature landscapes is called "Bonkei" and it is thought to have first made its appearance in the sixth century. The art of "Bonsai", which is the art of growing miniature trees in pots and making them look like their natural counterparts is thought to have its origins at around this same time period.

Today the arts of Bonkei and Bonsai are still practiced and are worldwide in their appeal. And the art of miniature landscape design has grown and improved. Today this art has become an active pursuit in the role playing genre and in the collecting of model trains. Over the past several decades amateur railroad designers have perfected the craft and technique of building miniature landscapes and there are many good books and ready to buy materials that can help you build great landscapes.

Tatebanko - This is the Japanese art of Paper Dioramas. They depicted popular scenes or themes. It was very popular in the 17th century in Japan. I have tatebanko projects here


Zinnfiguren - In the 18th Century there was something called Zinnfiguren. These were small tin representations of animals, figures, soldiers and other subjects. They were flat but sometimes embossed or shaped so they had a little bit of depth to them. Another name for them was "flats". They were often created into small dioramas.

Photo: HelgeRieder


The Gottstein Diorama's (1930's) Otto Gottstein was a wealthy furrier who was also an avid collector and designer of flats much like the zinnfiguren shown above. He put together a team of artists and artisans to create a series of 15 dioramas using flats. These depicted famous scenes from British History. Some of this work has been lost and some of it still remains. You can see pictures of two of these dioramas on this website here: The Gottstein Dioramas

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. There is a documentary about his dioramas and you can watch part of it right here. If the video doesnt work you can follow this link:http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=106

The Late 1800's and Early 1900's - Dioramas started to make their appearance in Museums. It is a perfect way to show the natural habitat of animals, early man and all sorts of eco systems. You can get a look at a lot of great dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History They even have a book:


Windows on Nature: The Great Habitat Dioramas of the American Museum of Natural History


Today - Well, there is lots of diorama stuff going on! Architects create them, museums create them, and even movie studios and toy companies make them. They come in a tremendous variety including kits where you make them from parts or they can come in completed form. Fantasy subjects, video games, comic book characters and military scenes are among the more popular subjects.

Here is a military diorama kit:

Airfix A03381 1:76 Scale Forward Command Post Dioramas Classic Kit


This scene is a fantasy miniature that I created as a tutorial for making your own diorama. The tutorial takes you through every step of the process from building the frame to wiring it up for lights.You can check out the tutorial here

Dioramas are a perfect way to show and express the world both from the past and from the four corners of the globe. Here is a great example of a pair of dioramas that give a distinct feel of the Thousand And One Arabian Knights


Egyptian Diorama

And here is an egyptian diorama that I have made. It include the pyramids and the sphinx: The Egyptian Diorama