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De grote illusie
ExhibitionOn display

The Grand Illusion

200 years of virtual realities

17.02.2024 - 01.09.2024

Teylers Museum


A talking head on a table, a ghost appearing on stage, a stereoscope showing the Egyptian pyramids in three dimensions: in the nineteenth century, optical illusions became quite the sensation. The audience loved it! Just as we now see a picture of the Pope in a trendy designer coat with astonishment. It is impossible, but it seems real.

In the exhibition The Grand Illusion – 200 years of Virtual Realities, Teylers Museum takes you back to the nineteenth century, to the roots of virtual reality, augmented reality and fakes. The exhibition room of the oldest museum in the Netherlands transforms into a house of mirrors. Experience nineteenth-century and contemporary virtual realities: have a look in the highlight of Teylers, the Kaiserpanorama, step inside a kaleidoscopic space, look through a VR headset and be entranced by images made by artificial intelligence – or are they? From mirrors and projectors to the digital genius of AI: The Grand Illusion shows the experience of yesterday is not so different from the experience of today. Roll up, roll up for The Grand Illusion!

De grote illusie

Mass spectacle

In the nineteenth century optical illusions became a mass spectacle. People gaped at the grandest and most astonishing optical effects, often created with the latest techniques and developments in science. With spectacular theatre acts and exciting attractions at funfairs, the public’s imagination was captured by this new and revolutionary kind of entertainment. Worlds usually out of reach and things impossible, now looking more real than reality: these virtual realities are fascinating.

Carte de visite for a Pepper’s Ghost show

Ghost photo: carte de visite for a Pepper's Ghost show by a famous performer, Robin. Paris, ca. 1863. The drummer was a soldier who had just been killed in the Crimean War.

Private collector

Pepper’s Ghost and Tupac

The technique behind people as apparitions (‘Pepper’s Ghost’) is still in use and still causes the same excitement and amazement. Think for example of Tupac, who, after his death, suddenly appeared on stage among other artists – 150 years after the invention of this technique. Concerns about the credibility of the realities created were also raised in the nineteenth century. On the basis of comparisons with today, The Grand Illusion once again poses the topical question: is seeing believing?


The Grand Illusion is the first exhibition in the Netherlands on the intersection of science, technology, theatre and mass entertainment.The scientific collection of Teylers Museum holds lots of material containing optical illusions, prompted by a fascination with the workings of the eye. The Rijksmuseum, Eye Filmmuseum, the Cinématèque française and several private collectors and museums, among others, have contributed objects on loan. For public events, Teylers Museum will work with Eye Filmmuseum, Schuur Haarlem and the Rathenau Instituut.

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