hidden europe 46

The borders of reality: panoramas

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Calvary scene from the Altötting Pnorama (photo © hidden europe).


Panoramas, often displayed in purpose-built circular galleries, offered virtual travel experiences long before cinema and the internet. Like all immersive technologies, panoramas raised important questions about the boundaries between subject and object.

Imagine a world without cinemas, a Europe where film simply does not exist. Prior to the invention of cinema, there were a number of ways in which inventors developed immersive experiences. Those protean experiments in virtuality, the best of which even gave an illusion of movement, have largely been consigned to technological history. Who now remembers the zoetrope or the théâtre optique?

Technological innovators in the 19th century explored the illusion of displacement. An intrigued public in London or Paris would pay handsomely to be ‘transported’ for an hour or two to the Holy Land, America or even Ancient Rome. In Paris around 1812, an early version of the cosmorama allowed an afternoon promenade around the world.

A similar installation in London presented, in the words of Mogg’s 1844 guide, “correct delineations of the most remarkable cities and edifices in every part of the globe. The subjects are changed every two or three months; it is, altogether, a very beautiful exhibition.”

The immersive panorama was one of the most successful of these early experiments in visual technology and virtual travel.

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