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Dead medium: the Panorama
From: Bruce Sterling
Source(s): The Panorama Phenomenon: Mesdag Panorama 1881- 1981
Published by the Foundation for the Preservation of the
Centenarian Mesdag Panorama (September 1981)
Den Haag, Holland
editor Evelyn J. Fruitema
written by Paul A. Zoetmulder
Mesdag Panorama, Zeestraat 65b, 2518AA The Hague

page 25

"In the initial period, panorama painters looked for

existing large premises in which their work of art could

be hung, but soon afterwards they began to construct

special small round wooden buildings, primitive sheds,

constructed = or so it appears = around the circular

canvases. These kinds of contraptions could be found in

many towns around 1800. The simple sheds in Hamburg,

Leipzig and Amsterdam which housed the first panoramas

were examples (...)"

page 26

"Barker's first rotunda was 11 m. high and had a

diameter of 26 m. In the big capitals of the time,

London, Paris and Vienna, where one could count on a

steady number of visitors, there arose, in due course,

more professional wooden or stone structures. The

exteriors of these rotundas were simple, undecorated,

cylindrical or polygonal in shape, like the twin panorama

buildings at Montmartre (Paris) or Barker's ingenious two-

storied rotunda on Leicester Square.

"Later again, a specific rotunda architecture

developed, narrowly linked to the construction of circuses

(...) By employing new materials (iron combined with

glass) the rotundas became even more spectacular towards

the middle of the 19th century. With the building on the

Champs Elysees designed by Hittorf (the creator of the

Place de la Concorde), Paris became the model for numerous

later buildings (...)

"Most rotundas bult later in the 19th century were

monumental, pompous buildings, often abundantly decorated,

on which the then fashionable neo-styles were appled with

great zest. (...) In the earlier days London had its

enormous Colosseum (1829), Berlin, Frankfurt, Leipzig,

Salzburg, Vienna, Brussels, Milan and Madrid all had their

own baroque panorama homes. They were also to be found in

the Netherlands. At one time Paris boasted at least 13 of

this kind of round art temples.

"When later on panorama companies were founded, a

certain uniformity in construction developed so as to

facilitate the exchange of the paintings. The dimensions

were also considerably larger than before. Standard

building norms were a diameter of 40 m. and a height of 15


page 28

"Early in the 20th century, the age of the panorama

definitely came to an end. It was impossible to fight the

competition of the oncoming cinema. (...) Also the new

photoprinting technique, by means of which photographs

could appear in illustrated periodicals, was a nail in the

coffin of the panorama, which was not any longer

susceptible to innovation. The panorama buildings were

mostly pulled down. but sometimes adapted to other uses.

They were transformed into theatres, cinemas, riding-

schools, artificial ice-rinks, mosques and suchlike.

Untold numbers of rotundas burnt down, sometimes well

insured, for inexplicable reasons. With the buildings the

numerous Societes Anonymes disappeared as well. But the

panorama has not been entirely relegated to history. The

Mesdag Panorama and a number of other circular displays

have survived in spite of adversity."