Despite living in a golden age of science and a hacking culture of restless refusal to accept ignorance, human beings retain a taste for being bamboozled. For centuries magicians and illusionists have catered to this appetite and even today a showman like Derren Brown packs theatres to the rafters with his very contemporary brand of “oh my god” befuddlement. But while modern magical stars have slick marketing campaigns, there is a fabulously rich heritage of more interesting visual ephemera around the industry of intrigue.
Taschen’s new release Magic. 1400s–1950s brings together more than 850 paintings, posters, photographs, handbills and engravings to chart the history of humankind’s obsession with being tricked. As ever there’s a heap of expert analysis to make sense of more than half a millennium of magic, but it’s the visuals that take centre stage for us.
Magic. 1400s–1950s is out now.