Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
This article is about the artistic term Panorama. For other uses, see Panorama (disambiguation).
A panorama is a wide, all-encompassing view; hence also a panoramic format. The word comes from Greek pan ("all") horama ("view") and was coined by the Scottish painter Robert Barker in 1792 to describe his paintings of Edinburgh shown on a cylindrical surface, which he soon was exhibiting in London. From 1793 Barker moved his panoramas to the first purpose-built panorama building in the world, in Leicester Square and made a fortune. 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. (see link)
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 gaven 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. In the US, the experience was intensified by unrolling a canvas-backed scroll past the viewer in a cyclorama (noted in the 1840s), an inflation of an idea that was familiar in the hand-held landscape scrolls of Song China Panoramas were only eclipsed by the 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. Few of these unwieldy ephemera survive; a rare surviving painted panorama is the Mesdag Panorama, a museum in The Hague. An exhibition "Panoramania" was held at the Barbican in the 1980s.
"Panorama" inspired many jocular "-rama" coinages, such as the wide-screen Cinerama process that brought the viewer's peripheral vision into the experience, which is extended in the modern IMAX film-projection technology. Most recently the cartoon series Futurama spoofs such overblown retro-futuristic technovisionary imaginings.
The immersive esthetic experience of Barker's Panorama infuses state-of-the art simulations at Disneyland or Universal Studios, on their way to achieving the ultimate immersion art: the holodeck of Star Trek. But nowadays panorama once more connotes the landscape vision itself, unmediated by art or technology.
- Online Etymology Dictionary: Panorama
- Michael Quinion, "World Wide Words"; Panorama
- "The 'Panorama'": Edinburgh's panorama
- Panorama of London from Albion Mills: a semi-circular view in hand watercolored prints
- Museum of London website Panoramania!
- Philip J. Ethington, "Panoramas"
- Ralph Hyde, Panoramania, 1988 (exhibition catalog)
- Oettermann, The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium (MIT Press)
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