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The word ‘panorama’ is used very frequently in modern times. The rise of mobile phone photography and the ability to take panoramic photographs without specialized equipment contributed to its popularity. But the word itself is very old. It was originally coined by the Irish painter Robert Barker in 1792 to describe his paintings of Edinburgh, Scotland, which he made on a cylindrical surface. Barker displayed his 360-degree paintings inside a brick rotunda building which he erected in Leicester Square, London. He called it “The Panorama”.

Barker charged visitors a flat 3 shillings to stand on a central platform under a skylight, surrounding which were enormous paintings that created an immersive illusion of standing in the middle of the landscape while the depicted scenes unfolded. To increase the realism of his scenes, Baker concealed all the borders of the canvas and strategically placed props in the foreground. Patrons were given orientation plans to help them navigate the scene and identify key buildings, sites, or events exhibited on the canvas. To heighten the immersive experience, Barker even made the audience walk down a dark corridor and up a long flight of stairs so that their minds could be refreshed before they viewed a scene.

panorama-sevastopol-detail-1

Details from a panorama depicting the Siege of Sevastopol, created in 1905. Photo credit: Rumlin/Wikimedia

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© Amusing Planet, 2016.


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