What is a Panorama?

A panorama (Greek: ‘pan’= all, ‘horama’= view) is a complex spatial installation of a picture that enables the viewer ‘to be in the picture’, similar to modern virtual 3D experiences. However, it is much older than these.

The panorama was invented at the end of the 18th century. The idea was to leave the boundaries of traditional painting behind and supply an unlimited view thus going beyond the usual scope of a framed picture. With this idea in mind the Irish-born painter Robert Barker took out a patent in London in 1787 on his ingenious invention which he later called ‘panorama’.

In a panorama the spectator, from an elevated standpoint, has a 360-degree view of a realistic representation of a landscape, a town, or an historic event. To create the illusion of ‘being in the picture’, it is most important that the subject is represented in a realistic style and that its perspective aims at the spectator exclusively.

A panorama needs its own building, in which the huge cylindrically shaped painting can be hung. The illusion of not looking at a painted picture but being in the depicted scene itself is produced by an elaborate space design and lighting system. The upper and the lower edges of the painting are not visible to the spectator. An umbrella-like structure secured above the spectator’s head conceals the upper edge of the painting. It also conceals the daylight that comes from a hidden source and illuminates the painting indirectly from above. The lower edge of the painting is concealed by a three-dimensional foreground– also called faux terrain–which is a continuation of the painted picture. All these devices help to create a new reality. In a panorama the visitor can leave real life behind and be in another place, in another time, to become a witness of an historic event.