How often have you used or seen the phrase "panoramic view"? We are awed by so much nature has to offer, and can so easily become absorbed in the world around us, enjoying all the wonders of creation. The entertainment world has adapted it as their own when describing their own works to draw us to seeing their own latest creation.
In the 1780s Robert Barker, an Irish itinerant portrait painter, had moved to Edinburgh and was walking through the area when he noticed Edinburgh in its entirety laid out before him. He was compelled to paint it as he saw it and created a painting in the round on the walls of a rotunda. He called it a panorama and patented his idea in 1787.
You entered through a dark area and went up a spiral staircase to a viewing platform with the walls flooded with light as if in full sun. He stipulated the top and bottom of the painting was not to be visible to heighten the illusion of being outside and viewing it in nature. From the center of the room, you had the feeling of reality.
The idea caught on and was copied in many areas, some using other names for the art form.
One who pushed the idea further was John Banvard in Mississippi. He painted his scenes portraying the Mississippi River on canvas mounted on rollers. This allowed him to travel around the country displaying his panorama. He was certainly a showman in the mold of Barnum and Bailey Circus fame. He claimed his canvas was three miles long and depicted the entire river. Actually it was 12 feet tall and about 1/2 mile in length.
The rollers allowed him to show it in a field if he had to, and the event proved popular. It was said he made over $200,000 on his work back in the 1840s. Not bad for a traveling painter.
Neither Barker or Banvard had any of their work survive them. However one such painting I saw was called a cyclorama painted by Frenchman Paul Dominique Philippoteaux. He and his crew painted scenes from the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War.
He actually made four copies, and the one displayed at Gettysburg was called the Boston cyclorama as it was originally shown there in 1884. It first appeared at Gettysburg in 1912 and was purchased by the National Park Services in 1942. The park has gone through a major renovation this century and was reopened in 2008 with the cyclorama still intact though now in a different building.
When we toured the area, the ranger mentioned Philippoteaux painted himself into the scene, lying under a tree. True or not, it was an impressive sight. If you get a chance to see it, you ought to stop by. Even in our modern world when we can have access to so much of the world, both through personal travel in our vehicles or through television and movies, it is a treat to see it in person.