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Revision as of 09:58, 14 November 2007 by Katie Clemente (Talk | contribs) (The Experience)

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“It was a vast circular representation of objects, where the eye reached to a horizon, and there being no limit, the illusion was complete” (Foucand 94).

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Diagram of a panorama (Grau 367).


A patent dated June 19th, 1787 is granted to Irish “portrait-painter” Robert Barker of the city of Edinburgh for an invention “called by him La Nature à Coup ď Œil, for the purpose of displaying Views of Nature at large, by Oil-painting, Fresco, Water-colours, Crayons, or any other Mode of painting or drawing.” Literally “The Nature of the Blow of the Eye,” the patent notes that “this invention has been since called the Panorama” (Barker 165). That Barker’s technique is not merely a new, page-bound perspective for two-dimensional markings but an interdisciplinary experience necessitating particular reception is apparent in his introductory sentence: “my invention…is intended, by drawing and painting, and a proper disposition of the whole, to perfect an entire view of any country or situation, as it appears to an observer turning quite round” (emphasis added; 165). The remainder of the document describes the proper construction of the building in which a panorama painting may be displayed, discussed in depth below.

Synthesis of Artistic Disciplines

Although the head painter or designer would be heralded in print for each individual work(IS THIS TRUE?), the panorama effect, as hinted above, cannot be achieved through pictures alone. Teams of artisans working in a variety of fields are required to coerce depictions into the three dimensional world and complete the illusion through the careful construction of visio-spatial syntax.


Sketching and Painting

Encoding techniques of panorama painting differ from those used in pictures viewed in more traditional, gallery environments. An 1863 guide to visual arts explains that “These pictures are intended to be viewed at from a distance, and consequently the lines must be bold, and the contrasts of light and shade very apparent. . .the pupil will notice that those parts which look harsh and coarse when closely examined, are the very portions which give character to the picture when viewed from an appropriate distance” (Urbino 65). Furthermore, instead of a single focus point which eyes could be led towards, the panorama required a multitude of interacting points that led vision around, back and forth, and up or down.

A variety of dead and remediated devices used in eC19 by artists to capture accurate preliminary sketches were employed by panorama artists as well, including the grid based “Alberti’s veil,” or the more expensive camera obscuras and lucidas. To sketch the full 360 degree viewpoint, these devices were rotated and modified; 1803 saw the invention of a panoramagraph, while a curved ruler added to a camera lucida “made it possible to correct in advance the distortions in perspective that would occur when the sketches made on a flat surface were connected and bent into a cylinder” (Oettermann 52). Daguerreotypes and magic lanterns were also used for sketches and their subsequent projection onto a gridded panorama canvas for tracing. Other developments included sheer ingenuity on the team of artists’ part, such as rolling scaffolding around the room to make grids or attaching pencils to “a bamboo pole about fifteen feet long” so that an artist could sketch from the viewing platform; “Anyone standing in front of the canvas. . .cannot tell whether a line is straight or not. . .The curvature. . .means that all lines have to be drawn curved if they are to appear straight” (54).

In spite of this, Oettermann notes that advertisements for panorama "would mention that the creator had used no mechanical aids whatsoever in his work. This made the final illusion achieved seem all the more impressive and also represented a bow towards the prevailing aesthetic theories of the day, which condemned paintings made with mechanical aids as "inartistic"" (52).

Sculpture and 'False Terrain'

The Experience

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The "Panorama Mesdag" in the Hague (Sillevis 767).

Walking into a panorama meant more than just standing in front of a painting, even though the panorama’s focus was placed upon a large circular painting. Panoramas were created with the intentions of illusion and deception, meant to cut off spectators from the outside world and fully engulf them in the scene before their eyes. Whereas, with typical paintings, the viewer would still be wholly aware of his or her immediate surroundings, such was not the case with the panorama. The spectator was intentionally faced with and surrounded by the unfamiliar. In most cases, viewers were first led through a dark or dimly lit corridor before entering the panorama (CITATION? EDDIE, WAS THIS IN ONE OF YOUR BOOKS?). Whether this was meant to situate viewers’ eyes to new lighting (like in movie theaters), ease them into a new “world,” cut them off from reality, or prepare them for impending shock is unclear (perhaps all of these were intended).

One thing that is clear, however, is the mental and physical shock that overcame viewers upon entering the panorama. From the initial corridor, the viewer would ascend a spiral staircase and enter the panorama from the center of the room. Immediately, the spectators were literally encompassed by the medium. In addition to the massive painting surrounding them, viewers were also met by intense lighting and occasionally sounds and/or music, depending on the scene that was being depicted (Sternberger 5). The “real” disappears beyond the panorama – all that’s left is reality depicted upon a circular canvas, and the effects were mentally and physically taxing:

“I am swaying between reality and unreality…between truth and pretense.  My thoughts, my whole being are given a movement                          
which has the same effect as spinning or the rocking of a boat.  Thus I explain the dizziness and sickness which overcomes  
the concentrated onlooker in the panorama” (Eberhard 175).

For most viewers, the effect described above was compared to seasickness – the nausea and dizziness that arises from the “rocking of a boat.” Here, we can see the mental effects of the medium (“swaying between reality and unreality”) lead to physical effects (“dizziness and sickness”). This overall disorientation can be attributed to a number of things: the initial corridor, the spiral staircase, the sudden illumination and circular sensation of the panorama, the separation from reality and immersion into hyper-“reality.” In many ways, these effects are the “pops and hisses” of the panorama: the material qualities of the object (corridor, staircase, circular encasement) unintentionally enter into the medium’s system of representation, and somehow enhance its semiotic meaning. Because of these material qualities, the onlooker becomes physically dizzy, but simultaneously falls into the trap of illusion that is intended by the panorama. Even though the panorama’s “pops and hisses” are not enjoyable, they would ultimately lend to the optical tricks leading into overall illusion.

Course Specific Theoretical Framework


(I feel like we should probably get rid of these title headings and just incorporate these into the dossier...I mean, it might just happen naturally? Idk -Katie)

Pops and Hisses

floor and ceiling: painted?

frame: never feel below or underneath the picture

interdiscplinary: sculpture included

"shock" from nausea at being so high: sea sickness

The Obvious

functional nonsense: hats inside why need top covering? ceiling not necessary?

content: landscapes: charleston, battle scenes, Robert K. Porter

need circular room

what if from point that didn't exist? --perspective/scale is what makes effect --not just abstract art... needs to make sense

Functional Nonsense

functional nonsense: going through dark corridor to get to viewing... intentionally shocking you

enter in middle of room

talk about confusion in defining none of us can agree and it's really confusing.

The Click

The Arbitrary


Digital cameras often enable a photographer to take multiple, successive snapshots of a landscape that may then be "stitched" together with computer software. While this language may come from any number of textile based synthesis procedures, Oettermann notes that weaving mills could not produce single canvases large enough for panorama painting, making it necessary "to sew together a number of strips approximately nine feet wide" (54). The cinematic term and technique of horizontally “panning” has also been linked to the experience and etymology of panorama.

Virtual reality rooms or headsets attempt to fill in the remaining floor and ceiling spaces, transporting one’s vision to another setting with a truly spherical or total illusion.

panning of camera in film

death because of film?

modern virtual reality - simulator sickness - being unable to grasp actual reality

feature on digital camera (can't see all at once, must capture in sections like original),

natural history museum exhibits

Real Estate / College 360 views on websites

Moving Panorama

Short life span, (only about 20-30 years), really reminiscent of film...kind of the bridge between the panorama and film...its decline was sudden and final, much like the panorama...modern cinema really does away with these media...


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Handbill for Purrington & Russell's Original Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World. Exhibition at Amory Hall, Boston, 1849 (Avery 54).

"the public is respectfully informed"

1849 advertisement (just uploaded it -Katie)

1797 advertisements ~ G. Baker owns panorama

“natural and original view of the beautiful city of Charleston”

“a complete and accurate description of the city will be handed the spectator at the time of viewing the panorama”

People live in building that is on display

Started viewing at 4pm

Other things on display including “grand automaton bird-cage clock for 500 dollars (contains the Canary and Bulfinch bird that sing as perfect as living birds show all the motions of life), fine paintings, a large collection of American butterflies and other insects in frames, and elegant pair of chandelier with burnished gold arms and candle sockets for 100 dollars.”

Mr. Winstanly painted panorama

(1797 New York) ~

Formal Prohibitions

who can write? -only certain artists -whole team of anonymous painters Probably all males, who can read? -inclusive democratic viewing -no vip section -two people could stand back to back and see same piece of art

The new mode of

Misc Notes

See world as bourgeois see it

Trying to hide the frame- in the frame

Church with early fresca

Church thing is big - stations of the cross as remediation?

cave paintings (look at history of comm ish, tribal light on wall)

hot air balloon from same time

dewey decimal system for library

root of evil panorama in house ~~HEY!~~ found article that says that a family lived in house that panorama was displayed...

trying to make real conform to your idea of what the real is

pattern of creating visual image

need bold lines

fifteen foot pencil

had to have many focal points vs typical one focal point

hiss/ pops: the floor (fixed with false terrain [painting needs sculpture, interdisciplinary art]), patent (Robert Barker) states that an enclosure must force the viewer from getting too close, constructed viewpoint

projection used to create? difficult perspective- pencil attached to 15ft bamboo stick

forced a certain distance from image

Goethe: ocean

Demise and Modern Remnants


  • "Advertisement 2 -- No Title. " Weekly Museum (1791-1805)8 Apr. 1797: 0_004. APS Online. ProQuest. NYU.
  • Avery, Kevin J. "'Whaling Voyage Round the World': Russell and Purrington's Moving Panorama and Herman Melville's 'Mighty Book.'" American Art Journal, Vol.22, No. 1. Spring 1990, pp. 50-78.
  • Barker, Robert, “Specification of the Patent granted to Mr. Robert Barker…Called by Him ‘La Nature à Coup ď Œil,’” in The Repertory of Arts and Manufactures: Consisting of Original Communications, Specifications of Patent Inventions, and Selections of Useful Practical Papers from the Transactions of the Philosophical Societies of All Nations, &c . &c. Vol. 4. London: 1776, pp.165-167.
  • Eberhard, J.A. Handbuch der Ästhetik. Translated by Oliver Grau. Halle, Germany: Hemmerde and Schwetschke, 1805. Part 1, Letter 28, p. 175.
  • Foucaud, Edward. “The Book of Illustrious Mechanics of Europe and America.” translated by John Frost. D. Appleton & Co., New York: 1847.
  • Grau, Oliver. "Into the Belly of the Image: Historical Aspects of Virtual Reality." Leonardo, Vol. 32, No. 5, Seventh New York Digital Salon. 1999. pp. 365-371.
  • Oettermann, Stephan. “The Panorama.” Zone Books, New York: 1997.
  • Sillevis, John. "The Hague. Panorama Mesdag, 1881-1981." The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 123, No. 945. Dec., 1981. pp. 766-767, 769.
  • Sternberger, Dolf. "Panorama of the 19th Century." Translated by Joachim Neugroschel. October, Vol. 4. Autumn, 1977. pp. 3-20.
  • Urbino, L. B. and Henry Day. “Art Recreations: Being a Complete Guide to Pencil Drawing, Oil Painting. . .” J. E. Tilton and company, Boston: 1863.