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In France similar lanterns were known as "lanterne vive" (bright or living lantern) in Medieval times and "lanterne tournante" since the 18th century. An early variation was described in 1584 by Jean Prevost in his small octavo book La Premiere partie des subtiles et plaisantes inventions. In his "lanterne" cut-out figures of a small army were placed on wooden platform rotated by a cardboard propeller above a candle. The figures cast their shadows on translucent, oiled paper on the outside of the lantern. He suggested to take special care that the figures look lively: with horses raising their front legs as if they were jumping and soldiers with drawn swords, a dog chasing a hare, etcetera. According to Prevost barbers were skilled in this art and it was common to see these night lanterns in their shop windows. A more common version had the figures, usually representing grotesque or devilish creatures, painted on a transparent strip. The strip was rotated inside a cylinder by a tin impeller above a candle. The cylinder could be made of paper or of sheet metal perforated with decorative patterns. Around 1608 Mathurin Régnier mentioned the device in his Satire XI as something used by a patissier to amuse children. Régnier compared the mind of an old nagger with the lantern's effect of birds, monkeys, elephants, dogs, cats, hares, foxes and many strange beasts chasing each other.

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