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Scheveningen village, a small section of the Panorama Mesdag (1880-1881), with false terrain in the foreground.

Panoramic paintings are massive artworks that reveal a wide, all-encompassing view of a particular subject, often a landscape, military battle, or historical event. They became especially popular in the 19th Century in Europe and the United States. A few have survived into the 21st Century and are on public display.



Panorama of Along the River During Qing Ming Festival, 18th century remake of a 12th century original by Chinese artist Zhang Zeduan

The word "panorama", from Greek pan ("all") horama ("view") was coined by the Irish painter Robert Barker in 1792 to describe his paintings of Edinburgh shown on a cylindrical surface, which he soon was exhibiting in London, as "The Panorama". In 1793 Barker moved his panoramas to the first purpose-built panorama building in the world, in Leicester Square, and made a fortune.

Raevsky Battery at Borodino, a fragment of Roubaud's panoramic painting.

Viewers flocked to pay a stiff 3 shillings to stand on a central platform under a skylight, which offered an even lighting, and get an experience that was "panoramic" (an adjective that didn't appear in print until 1813). The extended meaning of a "comprehensive survey" of a subject followed sooner, in 1801. Visitors to Barker's semi-circular Panorama of London, painted as if viewed from the roof of Albion Mills on the South Bank, could purchase a series of six prints that modestly recalled the experience; end-to-end the prints stretched 3.25 meters.

Barker's accomplishment involved sophisticated manipulations of perspective not encountered in the panorama's predecessors, the wide-angle "prospect" of a city familiar since the 16th century, or Wenceslas Hollar's "long view" of London, etched on several contiguous sheets. When Barker first patented his technique in 1787, he had given it a French title: La Nature à Coup d’ Oeil ("Nature at a glance"). A sensibility to the "picturesque" was developing among the educated class, and as they toured picturesque districts, like the Lake District, they might have in the carriage with them a large lens set in a picture frame, a "landscape glass" that would contract a wide view into a "picture" when held at arm's length.

Barker's Panorama was hugely successful and spawned a series of "immersive" panoramas: the Museum of London's curators found mention of 126 panoramas that were exhibited between 1793 and 1863. In Europe, panoramas were created of historical events and battles, notably by the Russian painter Franz Roubaud. Most major European cities featured more than one purpose-built structure hosting panoramas. These large fixed-circle panoramas declined in popularity in the latter third of the nineteenth century, though in the United States they experienced a partial revival; in this period, they were more commonly referred to as cycloramas.

In Britain and particularly in the US, the panoramic ideal was intensified by unrolling a canvas-backed scroll past the viewer in a Moving Panorama (noted in the 1840s), an alteration of an idea that was familiar in the hand-held landscape scrolls of Song China. Such panoramas were eventually eclipsed by moving pictures. (See motion picture.) The similar diorama, essentially an elaborate scene in an artificially-lit room-sized box, shown in Paris and taken to London in 1823, is credited to the inventive Louis Daguerre, who had trained with a painter of panoramas.

Surviving panoramas

Building in Pleven where the Pleven Panorama is on exhibit.

Relatively few of these unwieldy ephemera survive; a rare surviving great-circle panorama is the Panorama Mesdag in a purpose-built museum in The Hague, showing the dunes of nearby Scheveningen. There is a panorama located at the battlefield of Waterloo, depicting the battle.

An exhibition "Panoramania" was held at the Barbican in the 1980s, with a catalog by Ralph Hyde. The Racławice Panorama, currently located in Wrocław, Poland, is a monumental (15 × 120 metre) panoramic painting depicting the Battle of Racławice, during the Kościuszko Uprising. A panorama of the Battle of Stalingrad is on display at Mamayev Kurgan. Among Franz Roubaud's great panoramas, those depicting the Siege of Sevastopol (1905) and Battle of Borodino (1911) survive, although the former was damaged during the Siege of Sevastopol (1942) and the latter was transferred to Poklonnaya Gora. The Pleven Panorama in Pleven, Bulgaria, depicts the events of the Siege of Pleven in 1877 on a 115×15-metre canvas with a 12-meter foreground.

Five large panoramas survive in North America: Jerusalem at the Moment of Christ's Death, at St. Anne , outside of Quebec City, the Gettysburg Cyclorama depicting Pickett's Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, John Vanderlyn's Panorama of the Garden and Palace of Versailes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and the Cyclorama of the Battle of Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia. A fifth panorama, also depicting the Battle of Gettysburg, was willed in 1996 to Wake Forest University in North Carolina; it is in poor condition and not on public display. It was purchased in 2007 by a group of North Carolina investors who hope to resell it to someone willing to restore it. Only pieces survive of a massive cyclorama depicting the Battle of Shiloh.

In the area of the Moving Panorama, there are somewhat more extant, though many are in poor repair and the conservation of such enormous paintings poses very expensive problems. The most notable rediscovered panorama in the United States was the Great Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress, which was found in storage at the York Institute now the Saco Museum in Saco, Maine, by its former curator Tom Hardiman. It was found to incorporate designs by many of the leading painters of its day, including Jasper Francis Cropsey, Frederic Edwin Church, and Henry Courtney Selous (Selous was the in-house painter for the original Barker panorama in London for many years.)

Another moving panorama was donated to the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection at Brown University Library in 2005. Painted in Nottingham, England around 1860 by John James Story (d. 1900), it depicts the life and career of the great Italian patriot, Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882). The panorama stands about 4 1/2 feet high and approximately 273 feet long, painted on both sides in watercolor. Numerous battles and other dramatic events in his life are depicted in 42 scenes, and the original narration written in ink survives.

The Arrival of the Hungarians, a vast cyclorama by Árpád Feszty et al., completed in 1894, is displayed at the Ópusztaszer National Historical Memorial Park in Hungary. It was made to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the the 895 conquest of the Carpathian Basin by the Hungarians.

The Cyclorama of Early Melbourne, by artist John Hennings in 1892, still survives albeit having suffered water damage during a fire. Painted from a panoramic sketch of Early Melbourne in 1842 by Samuel Jackson. It places the viewer on top of the partially constructed Scott's Church on Collins Street in the Melbourne CBD. Commissioned to celebrate 50 years of the city of Melbourne, it was displayed in the Melbourne Exhibition Building for nearly 30 years before being taken into storage. Relatively small for a Cyclorama, it measured just 100 feet long and 13 feet high.

See also

External links


  • Ralph Hyde, Panoramania, 1988 (exhibition catalog)
  • Stephan Oettermann, The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium (MIT Press)
  • Gabriele Koller, (ed.), Die Welt der Panoramen. Zehn Jahre Internationale Panorama Konferenzen / The World of Panoramas. Ten Years of International Panorama Conferences, Amberg 2003
  • Sehsucht. Das Panorama als Massenunterhaltung des 19. Jahrhunderts, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in Bonn, Basel und Frankfurt am Main 1993
  • Gebhard Streicher (ed.), Panorama: Virtualität und Realitäten. 11. Internationale Panoramakonferenz in Altötting 2003 / Panorama: Virtuality and Realities. 11th International Panorama Conference in Altötting 2003, Altötting 2005
  • Oliver Grau, Virtual Art. From Illusion to Immersion, London 2003


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