The Cyclorama: Virtual Reality in the 1800s

In early 2024 Apple Inc. entered the virtual reality headset market, releasing the Apple Vision Pro. In their marketing footage for the new headset Apple demonstrates one of its many features, viewing panoramas captured from an iPhone.

Panoramas shot on an iPhone can be viewed through the Apple Vision Pro.
Copyright Apple Inc., licensed for non-commercial editorial use only.⁠[1]

From the footage, it’s clear to me that Apple has put some thought to the spacial experience of panoramas. It’s subtle, but notice that as the person walks towards the panorama, more of the image is revealed on the edges. If it were a standard image projected on a flat surface, this effect would not happen. How exactly this functionality works is difficult to describe – it’s some form of parallax – but it certainly makes the depth perception feel more real.

But this post isn’t about fancy technology.

No, humanity used to have something better than a screen strapped to your face! We had true virtual reality – The cyclorama!

Invention of the Cyclorama

Cycloramas are large circular rooms that exhibit massive panoramic images on the walls. Viewers stand on a platform in the center of the room, immersing themselves into the 360-degree image, as if they were in the middle of the scene.

Back in the 1800s, these venues were simply called panoramas, but these days the meaning has broadened to be any wide landscape image.⁠[2] To avoid any confusion, in this post I’ll refer to the venues as “cycloramas”, and the imagery as “panoramas”.

Cycloramas were invented by Robert Barker (1739-1806), an Irish portrait painter.

The story goes that Barker was walking with his daughter on Calton Hill, overlooking the city of Edinburgh. He speculated that one could frame a scene on one spot, turn, then paint another frame on the same spot, continuously, until a 360-degree scene was captured. By standing in the center of all the paintings joined together, you would then experience the illusion of being on Calton Hill!⁠[3]

A panorama of Edinburgh from Calton Hill. From left to right are the following features: The National Monument, Nelson Monument, Holyrood Park, Dugald Stewart Monument, Edinburgh Castle, Balmoral Hotel Clock Tower, St James Quarter.

Panorama of Edinburgh from Calton Hill (2024)
By Leif Gehrmann, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Barker took out a patent in 1787 and got to work.⁠[4] He got help from his son Henry Aston Barker, only 12 years old, to sketch from the top of the City Observatory on Calton Hill.

The following year he exhibited his completed panorama at Archers’ Hall in Edinburgh. The cyclorama was very cramped. It was 7 meters in diameter and 2 meters high, and only six people could stand in the center.⁠[5] This was not ideal, as the small size did not make the illusion appear convincing.

But despite these limitations, and with encouragement from his friends, Barker moved to London to make his true vision a reality.⁠[6]

Leicester Square Panorama

After setting up 2 temporary venues in London, Barker settled near Leicester Square in 1793 to construct his grand panorama.⁠[7][8]

A cross-section of the building can be seen below, along with an explanation.

A cross section view of the Leicester Square building. A large panorama is on the bottom-half of building, with a platform in the center that allows visitors to look out onto the paintings on the walls. A smaller panorama is on the top-half, which is accessed through a staircase.

A cross section view of the Leicester Square rotunda, showing the large and small panoramas.
CC BY-NC-SA 4.0, from The British Museum.

Explanation of Plate 14 of The Rotunda.[9]

  1. Loby of entrance.
  2. Stairs to lower stage.
  3. Stage from which is viewed the lower picture, or Panorama, of 85 feet diameter.
  4. Passage to stair-case.
  5. Stair-case to the upper picture, or Panorama, which ascends to a height that prevents the cutting the upper part of the under picture.
  6. Stair where the company descend to prevent the improperly cutting the upper picture.
  7. Stairs to ascend to the stage, and from which the spectator obtains the proper view of the upper picture of 50 feet diameter.
  8. The column in the centre of the Rotunda.
  9. Roof.
  10. Sky-light of the under picture.
  11. Sky-light of the upper picture.
  12. Section of the walls of the building.
  13. A gallery which encircles the Rotunda, and from which the pictures are fixed.

The building contained two cycloramas, a large panorama at the bottom, and a smaller panorama at the top. This allowed the building to stay open even when one panorama was being replaced with a new one. Viewers entered the cyclorama through a set of stairs on the edge of the stage. From above, sky-lights lit up both panoramas; This did mean the walkway to the upper panorama did cast a shadow onto the lower panorama which artists had to compensate for.⁠[10] What’s not clear is how the cycloramas used “false terrain”, elements in the foreground, such as the sea in naval battles, or vegetation in scenes on land.⁠[11] It’s possible that no complex terrain was used, because Barker thought “the idea of employing other gadgets besides the “pencil” (paintbrush) to create a realistic image of nature was unfair or cheating”.⁠[12]

Despite the various technical challenges, it was a success.

Financially, the panorama made Barker a wealthy man.⁠[13] It was visited by the royal family, including King George Ⅲ and Queen Charlotte, who “expressed the highest approbation of this singular production of genius and art”.⁠[14][15] Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson, who was involved in a battle depicted in one of the panoramas, described it as “the most correct picture of any event I have ever seen”.⁠[16] The illusion was so successful that one panorama depicting a capsized boat fooled a Newfoundland dog to spring over the hand-rail to rescue the men from drowning.⁠[17] But the panorama didn’t come without criticism; English poet William Wordsworth called it a delusive spectacle, an ape-like mimicry, and in general was not happy with the audience for having a “degrading thirst after outrageous stimulation”.⁠[18] – An amusing contrast to our modern usage of mobile-phones, video-games, and virtual-reality headsets.

Robert Barker died in 1806, putting the cyclorama in the hands of his son, Henry Aston Barker.⁠[19] In 1826⁠[20] it was bought out by Henry’s assistant John Burford, who then died in 1827 and was passed onto Robert Burford. Robert Burford continued creating panoramas, despite the decreasing popularity of the medium in the 1830s, right up until his death in 1861. In 1865 the building was auctioned off. Today it’s a church called Notre Dame de France.⁠[21]

Recreating the Cyclorama

It‘s a bit difficult to imagine what these cycloramas looked like from within. There‘s an abundance of software to view panoramic images from a fixed center-point, but I was unable to find software that simulates the experience being inside a cyclorama. In other words, software that allows you to walk around on a circular platform surrounded by a panoramic image. It‘s possible someone has done this before, but there isn‘t a publicly available demo.

So I created my own virtual cyclorama.

First, I took the dimensions of Barker‘s Leicester Square Panorama, and recreated a 3D scene. I’m not great at 3D modelling, so it’s nothing fancy. Then, I had to find the panorama images to display. Unfortunately, none of the original panoramas from the Barkers were preserved, but fortunately we do have records in the form of small aquatint and watercolour paintings! Finally, I added controls to move around the scene to view the panorama from different perspectives. The joystick is used to move, and click-and-drag to change the perspective.

Screenshot of a virtual cyclorama. Two figures stand on a circular stage with a hand-rail, overlooking a scene of Edinburgh with a castle in the background.

A screenshot of the virtual cyclorama I built.

The virtual cycloramas can be viewed by selecting the three thumbnails below.

Thumbnail of a panorama of Edinburgh. Edinburgh →
Thumbnail of a panorama of London. London →
Thumbnail of a panorama of Constantinople. Constantin­ople →

Even with my simulation, it’s difficult to tell how effective the illusion in the cyclorama was back then.

Since we don’t have the real panoramas, it’s probably not surprising that the scene looks unnatural, cartoony, and flat. The edges of the segmented panels in the London and Constantinople panoramas also don’t help with illusion.

I also developed this simulation to work in the browser without any requiring any peripheral devices. Perhaps the experience would be more immersive when implemented for a Virtual-Reality headset; Something that I’m not interested in, but maybe someone else would be inspired to create!

My simulation has other limitations. I didn’t use any fancy lighting effects (it’s just globally illuminated), which is why the stage looks flat. I also used illustrations of audience members, rather than 3D models of people (In case it’s not obvious, you can see these characters when walking around the stage). And, finally, because we don’t know what the “false terrain” in the foreground was, my simulation uses a simple dark surface; The real cyclorama probably would have something more practical to help with the illusion of depth and perspective.

But I hope these shortcomings don’t take away from the impressive detail in the panoramas. While the illusion of being in the scenery isn’t effective, being able to walk around and spot landmarks is fun!

Other Panoramas by the Barkers

Sadly, the three panoramas I listed are the only records from the Barkers which have detailed illustrations. Dozens of other panoramas exhibited at Leicester Square did not get the same treatment.

Thankfully, we have records of panoramas in the form of souvenir items: Panorama Keys.

Four sheets of paper, each displaying a key or exaplanation of the Panorama that is being exhibited. These include 'View of Windsor', 'Lord Bridport's Engagement', 'Edinburgh and the Surrounding Country', 'View of Flushing During the Siege'

Four 'Panorama Keys' for some of the exhibitions: View of Windsor, Lord Bridport's Engagement, Edinburgh and the Surrounding Country, View of Flushing During the Siege.
Respectively: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 Digital Bodleian, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 Digital Bodleian, Public Domain Yale Center for British Art, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 The British Museum.

These panorama keys could be purchased while visiting the cyclorama, and gave detail to what the audience were seeing. This included names of landmarks and people, and sometimes historical context. The circular designs, shown above, place the viewer in center the of the key allowing the viewer to engage with the scene by rotating the paper. Later designs sadly ditched the circular aesthetic, and instead used simple rectangular panoramas, a format that we’re more familiar with today when we take a picture on our phones.⁠[22]

The keys aren’t anything like the original panoramas; They’re missing detail, colour, and shading.

But for my purposes of recreating the panoramas, they are a handy substitute!

I wrote some software to convert these circular designs into viewable panoramas, like the recreations I made for Edinburgh, London, and Constantinople.

Naturally, with these crude representations of the panoramas, you’ll need a vivid imagination to guess what the real panoramas looked like. Imagine detailed uniforms, colourful explosions, moody atmospheres, and picturesque hills. Exotic scenes designed to trick you into believing you were there, without needing to leave the metropolitan comforts of London.

The Leicester Square Panorama was impressive. But can it get even more impressive? How about an even bigger panorama? Let me introduce you to Thomas Hornor…

Thomas Hornor’s Colosseum

In 1820, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London was under renovations and scaffolding was erected over the dome.⁠[23] This allowed Thomas Hornor, a surveyor and draftsman, to have access to a unique perspective over London. Originally he was thinking of publishing some small prints with views of the city, hoping to make a small profit from tourists. But the views inspired him to make something even greater – The Colosseum.⁠[24]

Illustration of the colosseum, from within. A large tower stands in the middle of a large cirular room which people can walk up and observe the panorama. Illustration of the colosseum, from within. From this perspective the illusion of the panorama is fully realised and it looks like one is viewing city of London from the top St. Paul's Cathedral. A breath-taking view.

Graphic illustrations of the Colosseum.
By J. M. Gandy, F. Mackenzie, et al., Published 1829 by Ackermann and Co.
Public Domain, from Yale Center for British Art.

A structural illustration of the Colosseum building.

Design for the Colosseum, Regent's Park
By Decimus Burton (and Thomas Hornor), circa 1823.⁠[25]
Licensed for non-commercial use only, from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Colosseum started construction in 1824, and took under two years to build. The building was circular, topped with a domed roof with glass skylights, fronted with a Grecian-Doric portico resembling the Parthenon. Inside was a tower, with spiral staircases reaching a platform to view the panorama of London. The tower also featured a steam-powered elevator, at the time called an “Ascending Room”, one of the first passenger elevators in the world!⁠[26][27]

No remnants of the panorama exist today.

Fortunately, we do have a panorama key of the panorama based on Hornor’s sketches, printed by Godefroy Engelmann I.

Personally I wasn’t satisfied with just having a key. I looked around for more panoramas and discovered that a couple of years later, someone by the name of Josiah Henshall created a similar looking panorama from the exact same place, this time in a photorealistic format. This hopefully gives a better impression of what Hornor’s panorama would’ve looked like.⁠[28]

Finally, I wanted to see a contemporary view, and David Iliff was generous to license his panorama in the Creative Commons, which I could use to create a modern cyclorama!

I’ve compiled all three versions as virtual cycloramas below.

Thumbnail of a panorama key of London. Panorama Key by Engelmann, 1829 →
Thumbnail of an illustrative print of London. Prints by Henshall, 1836 →
Thumbnail of a photograph of London. Photograph by David Iliff, 2007 →

Some notable qualities of the Colosseum:

The Colosseum was roughly 40 meters in diameter, compared to Barker’s Panorama of 25 meters. This size increase is significant; The larger the diameter, the better the illusion. When walking around the platforms of smaller cycloramas, people are more likely to be disoriented and stumble, as the walls of the panorama would shift more than one would expect. In contrast, larger cycloramas allowed for greater depth perception. Most cycloramas at the time were 30 meters in diameter, so the Colosseum was one of the largest.⁠[29]

The panorama itself was met with mixed reception. It was highly praised for its detail, but Hornor made it his obsession. He was a primarily a surveyor, focused on accuracy and disregarded London’s hazy skies. One critic wrote, “In point of likeness and deception nothing can be more complete; but as a picture, its very exactitude and truth are its greatest impediments, and it is of course deficient in that effect which can only be attained by a more scientific disposition of light and shade.”⁠[30] As one art historian put it, “what Hornor offers in his panorama is no longer a reflection of reality but the hyperreality of a mail-order catalog.”⁠[31] In other words, technically detailed but artistically lacking.

Regardless, the panorama was complete and drew in crowds.

Hornor himself did not profit from the endeavour, as he had fled to the United States shortly before the Colosseum was opened to the public. Incomplete side-attractions like exhibitions and greenhouses resulted in financial instability. Funding from a key investor disappeared and the venture went bankrupt in 1829.⁠[32][33]

A structural illustration of the Colosseum building.

The Colosseum, Regent's Park Outer Circle. By Roger Fenton, circa 1860.
Licensed for non-commercial use only, from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Colosseum went through various owners, constantly being refurbished and repainted. Eventually it was successful, becoming a popular destination for high society. In 1845, a new panorama was created, called “London by Night”, which was hoisted in front of the old panorama during certain times of day. Later in 1848, “Paris by Night” was also added.⁠[34][35] But by the 1850s, strong competition from venues like the Crystal Palace made it difficult to retain the crowds. The building was demolished in 1875. The panoramas themselves wound up in Philadelphia, but ultimately were lost in the 1880s.⁠[36]

Hornor’s Colosseum remained one of the largest cycloramas, up until the 21st century.⁠[37]

Giovanni Segantini’s Panorama

While the popularity of the cycloramas and panoramas waned in the middle of the 1800s, by the end of the century there was revived interest in continental Europe.⁠[38]

One man hoped to go one step further and reinvent the cyclorama.

Giovanni Segantini was an artist with an ambitious dream to create his own panorama. Segantini is known for his landscape paintings of the alpine scenery, like the one shown below, Spring in the Alps.

A painting depicting a wide view of an alpine landscape. Snow covers the mountains in the background. In the foreground is a farm girl with two horses, following a narrow footpath. A small city can be seen in the background.

Spring in the Alps, by Giovanni Segantini, created in 1897.
Public Domain, from Getty Museum.

Segantini’s dream was to create a massive panorama of his home region, the valley of Engadin in Switzerland. A cyclorama would be built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. To get the project started, he appealed to as many people as he could, eventually finding support from a group of hotel owners.

In the book, The Panorama: History of a mass medium, Stephan Oettermann writes,

From about 1896 on, Segantini invested all his considerable energy and enthusiasm in promoting this project, which over the years had become almost an obsession with him. He called press conferences, created committees, founded clubs, and delivered lectures. He also wrote a “proclamation” explaining his idea and sent it to magazines and newspapers.

This finally convinced a group of hotel owners in the Engadin that Segantini’s panorama might increase tourism to the region, and he talked them into giving him a large enough advance for him to be able to start work on it.⁠[39]

A drawing of a large rotunda.

Sketch of the Pavilion for the Engadin Panorama, by Giovanni Segantini, created in 1897.
Public Domain, from Die Kunst für alle.⁠[40] Alternative available at Galleria Civica G. Segantini.⁠[41]

Below are excerpts from Segantini’s proclamation, originally in vibrant German prose,⁠[42]

Dear gentlemen of Engadin!

The project that I am reading to you, dear gentlemen of the Engadin, sons of these Alps, is bold but clear, like the sunlight that illuminates these mountains of ours. […] I thought that all the beauties that surround us should find their worthy place in this tremendous exhibition, and I conceived the project which is the purpose of our gathering and which, when realized, will be the highest distinction among the best of this future world exhibition.

As you already know, it is a huge panorama that represents the most magnificent and outstanding points of our Upper Engadin and is intended to be an artistic summary of them. This panorama will have nothing to do with the others that have been seen so far. […]

Science will come to the aid of art to achieve the desired effect; we will have electric fans to produce freshness,⁠[43] various calculated disarrays of light and shade, hydraulic arrangements and acoustic works, and everything that can best serve to make the visitor’s imagination most complete and vivid, as if he were really there on our mountains.

The panorama painted in the background will have a circumference of 220 meters and a height of 20 meters, with a surface of 4400 square meters. […]

The interior will cover a surface of 3850 square meters and in the center will accommodate a mountain hill 75 meters in circumference and 16 meters high, with two streets, an ascent and a descent, laid out in inclined semicircles, each of which covers half of the panorama which can be completely overlooked from the upper platform. […]

The entire building, made of iron, would take up a total area of 3850 square meters and would be 25 meters high with a facade about 40 meters long and 30 meters high, on which I would depict all the villages of the Upper Engadin in symbolic images.

But eventually the hotel owners decided that Engadin didn’t need that much publicity, so they withdrew their financial support. Stephan Oettermann concludes, “this spelled the end for a project that would have resulted in the most ambitious panorama of all time, in quality as well as sheer size. It was also the death knell of the age of panoramas”.⁠[44]

Segantini scaled down the project to a triptych, depicting three landscapes, Life, Nature, and Death. He died of peritonitis in 1899, only 41 years old, in a mountain hut while working on the triptych.⁠[45]

A painting depicting a wide view of an alpine landscape. Snow covers the mountains in the background. In the foreground is a farm girl with two horses, following a narrow footpath. A small city can be seen in the background.

Triptych of Life, Nature, and Death, by Giovanni Segantini, created 1898-1899.
Public Domain, from Wikimedia Commons.

From what I could find, there are no illustrations of what the interior of the building would look like.⁠[46] I tried to visualise what Segantini described in his proclamation, but I don’t understand how he’d layout the hill and streets. So unlike the previous cycloramas, I’m not able to provide a simulation of the experience.

At the very least, below is a photograph of Upper Engadin, to give you a feel of the location. You can understand how such a view would compel him to create an ambitious panorama.

A panorama of Upper Engadin, showing large mountains, valleys, lakes, and villages.

Panorama of Upper Engadin (2017)
By Lino Schmid, CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons.

While we don’t have clear interior descriptions, I think it would be helpful to show how large his vision was compared to the last two cycloramas. Below is a diagram, demonstrating the scale of Segantini’s Panorama compared to his predecessors.

A scale diagram of all three cycloramas discussed in this post. Robert Barker's Panorama, built in 1793, had a diameter of 25 meters and a height of 10 meters. Thomas Horner's Colosseum, built in 1829, had a diameter of 39 meters and a height of 18 meters. Giovanni Segantini's Panorama, proposed in 1897, had a diameter of 70 meters and a height of 20 meters.

A scale diagram of the three cycloramas discussed in this post.

Cycloramas Today

All the cycloramas I’ve discussed in this post are from the distant past, but there are plenty of modern cycloramas that can be visited today!

Notable cycloramas are:

There is also an organisation called the International Panorama Council, dedicated to supporting research and communication of historic and modern panoramas. They have a database of Panoramas which you can filter by country.

Yadegar Asisi is known for more modern takes on the panorama, including Titanic, The Wall (Berlin), and The Cathedral of Monet. (⌀30m × 32m)⁠[50]

From the marketing material I’ve seen, it doesn’t look like Asisi is concerned about the illusion of the panorama; Visitors are allowed to walk around and get up close to the walls. I believe this can be attributed to a change in audience expectations. The modern audience is accustomed to visual illusions like cinemas, computer screens, and more recently, virtual reality headsets. So they probably won’t mind if the illusion breaks down from certain perspectives, both because the audience knows how the trick works, and because they want to see it break, for fun!

Therefore, immersion is more important than illusion. The experience of being inside the cyclorama and viewing the themes presented on the panoramas is what brings the audience joy, not the illusion. This distinction is important, not just for cycloramas, but for emerging media technology like virtual-reality headsets.

Closing Remarks

Thanks for reading this lengthy post! My original plan was to just remark upon Barker’s story, but I found Hornor’s and Segantini’s stories too interesting not to share.

If you want to see more examples of simulated cycloramas exhibited at Leicester Square and other places, check out

A collage of panoramas, with a link to

The source code for the cyclorama app can be found on GitHub. I also made a scrappy script (also on GitHub) to convert those circular panorama keys into horizontal panoramas, which I used heavily for this project.

Want a list of all panoramas by Barker & co.? Checkout the appendix below List of Barker Panoramas for the longest list of panoramas, including links and references to archives which have copies of the leftover artifacts. It’s by no means complete, but I think it’s the largest compilation that exists on the internet at the moment, so… you’re welcome. 😄

For books, I recommend The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, by Stephan Oettermann, which has a more complete history of panoramas. For even deeper analysis on Panoramas, I also highly recommend The First Panoramas: Visions of British Imperialism, by Denise Blake Oleksijczuk. The latter examines not just the history of the early panoramas, but also the nuances of Jacobite history, gender, imperialism, and human perception.

Citations & Footnotes

  1. ^ Introducing Apple Vision Pro …, “Memories come alive”
  2. ^ The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, p. 7
  3. ^ The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, p. 358
  4. ^ Panoramania, p. 57
  5. ^ The First Panoramas: Visions of British Imperialism, p. 28-29
  6. ^ The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, p. 101
  7. ^ The First Panoramas: Visions of British Imperialism, p. 50
  8. ^ The precise location of the building can be found here.
  9. ^ Plans, and views in perspective, with descriptions, …, p. 8
  10. ^ The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, p. 103
  11. ^ The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, p. 105
  12. ^ The First Panoramas: Visions of British Imperialism, p. 54
  13. ^ The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, p. 108
  14. ^ The First Panoramas: Visions of British Imperialism, p. 69
  15. ^ ‘Spectacles within doors’, p. 141
  16. ^ The First Panoramas: Visions of British Imperialism, p. 153-154
  17. ^ ‘Spectacles within doors’, p. 142
  18. ^ ‘Spectacles within doors’, p. 145
  19. ^ The panorama: with memoirs of its inventor …, p. 9
  20. ^ It's not entirely clear to me if it was 1823 or 1826. In The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, Stephan Oettermann says on p. 111 “The last panorama Henry Barker drew himself was The Coronation of George IV in 1822. The following year he sold the Leicester Square Panorama and his shares in the Strand Panorama to his partner John Burford and Burford's son Robert.”, but on p. 113 “In 1826 Burford bought out Henry Barker completely and operated both panoramas until his death later that year.”.
  21. ^ The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, p. 113
  22. ^ The First Panoramas: Visions of British Imperialism, p. 130, 169
  23. ^ The Regent’s Park Colosseum …, p. 13
  24. ^ The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, p. 132
  25. ^ Panoramania, p. 87
  26. ^ Curiosities of London, p. 280-281
  27. ^ The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, p. 134-135
  28. ^ There is one other illustration of the panorama, believed to be from 1845, but a high quality scan is not available to the public. As of June 2024, it is framed in the staff room of the London Metropolitan Archives. A record exists in the Guildhall Library with the title A view of London and the surrounding country taken from the top of Saint Paul's Cathedral and has the item barcode 375229-1001. You can see a picture of it on Flickr. A low-resolution black and white scan is also available in the book The Regent's Park colosseum : or, 'Without hyperbole, the wonder of the world' : being an account of a forgotten pleasure dome and its creators By Ralph Hyde.
  29. ^ The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, p. 59, 135
  30. ^ Tour of a German artist in England, p. 275; Kunstreise durch England und Belgien, p. 127
  31. ^ The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, p. 137
  32. ^ The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, p. 138
  33. ^ Panoramania, p. 82
  34. ^ The Colosseum and its Attractions …, p. 8
  35. ^ The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, p. 138-140
  36. ^ Panoramania, p. 83-85
  37. ^ I'm not 100% sure about this claim, but I couldn't find any other 360 degree cycloramas exceeding a diameter of 39 meters before the 2000s. On page 21 of The Regent’s Park Colosseum …, Ralph Hyde wrote “This would be effect the largest oil painting the world had ever seen”, which asserts this fact, but only for oil-based paintings. French painter Jean-Charles Langois created a similarly sized panorama in 1838 (Hittorff's rotunda), a few years after Hornor's Colosseum, but I couldn't find any illustrations of the panoramas exhibited at the cyclorama. You can read more about Langlois in The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium in pages 158-164. A panorama with a diameter of 52 meters was opened in China in 2010, which is the new record.
  38. ^ The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, p. 235
  39. ^ The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, p. 181
  40. ^ Die Kunst für alle, p. 294
  41. ^ Galleria Civica G. Segantini, Progetto per il padiglione …
  42. ^ Segantini, p. 104-108
  43. ^ According to Stephan Oettermann on p. 181 of The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, “Segantini had originally wanted gigantic ozone-producing machines, so that visitors to the exhibit in Paris could get a whiff of genuine high-altitude atmosphere”. I followed the citation Oettermann referenced (Die Kunst für alle, p. 297), but I couldn't find any thing that mentions it. Thankfully, I found an alternate source that confirms this on page 111 of Segantini, published by Marcel Montandon in 1906: “…; so träumte er von der herstellung kolossaler Maschinen zur Ozonfabrikation, um das Panorama so zu ventilieren, daß die Besucher in Paris die Höhenluft der Alpen einatmen könnten; …”.
  44. ^ The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, p. 183
  45. ^ Geovanni Segantini: Light and Symbol, p. 118, 128
  46. ^ Curiously, shortly after Segantini's proposal was rejected, Giovanni Giacometti, a close friend and mentee of Segantini, created Panorama from Muottas Muragl in 1898 which depicts the exact same scene of Upper Engadin. There are no proper pictures of the panorama online, but a video of it can be found on YouTube thanks to Marc B. Bundi. Through Giacometti, we can perhaps have a vague idea for how Segantini might have envisioned his own panorama.
  47. ^ International Panorama Council, Thun-Panorama
  48. ^ International Panorama Council, Panorama Mesdag
  49. ^ Guinness World Records, Largest panoramic painting
  50. ^ Art in Berlin, Die Kathedrale von Monet


Appendix and Transcripts

List of recommended archives

The list below is a collection of websites that featured one or more of the panoramas from the 18th century.

List of Barker Panoramas

The list below is a collection of all the panoramas I could find from Robert Barker, and additional panoramas that were exhibited at the Archers’ Hall in Edinburgh, 28 Haymarket in London, 28 Castle Street in London, Leicester Square in London, and 168/9 The Strand. The list will contain panoramas from other artists, such as Robert Burford.

Digital resources about Hornor's Colosseum

Below is a collection of links to online resources related to Hornor's Panorama from the top of St. Paul's Cathedral.

  • A brief account of the Colosseum, in the Regent's Park, London, by John Britton, published in 1829, is available online at (OAI-Identifier: oai:de:slub-dresden:db:id-470852682) This book contains at the very end an illustration and key of the panorama, but the scan-quality is not that good.
  • The Panoramic View from the top of St. Paul's Cathedral, the Conservatory &c., printed by Goderoy Engelmann I, published in 1829, is available at The British Museum (Museum number: 1880,1113.1207.1-2)
  • A print of the same name, but with a slightly different style, is also available at The British Museum (Museum number: 1880,1113.1209.1-2)
  • A panorama key of Paris by Night, a panorama that was created for the Colosseum in 1848, can be found between pages 17-31 of The Colosseum and its Attractions …, published by W. M. Lendrum in 1874.
Architectural structure of Hornor's Colosseum A structural illustration of the Colosseum building.

Architectural structure of the Colosseum.
Published in The London Literary Gazette, 1829-01-31, no. 628, page 75.
From the Internet Archive.

Table of References to the Plate.

  1. Column or Tower in the centre of the building, for supporting the Ascending-Room, &c.
  2. Entrance to the Ascending-Room.
  3. Saloon for the reception of works of art.
  4. Passage leading to the Saloon, Galleries, and Ascending-Room.
  5. F. Two separate Spiral Flights of Steps, leading to the Galleries, &c.
  6. H. I. Galleries from which the Picture is to be viewed.
  7. Refreshment-Room.
  8. Rooms for Music or Balls. The effect of either is delightful.
  9. The Old Ball from St. Paul's Cathedral.
  10. Stairs leading to the Outside of the Building.
  11. b. Sky-lights.
  12. Plaster Dome, on which the sky is painted.
  13. Canvass on which the part of the picture up to the horizon is painted.
  14. Gallery, suspended by ropes, used for painting the distance, and uniting the plaster and the canvass.
  15. Temporary Bridge from the Gallery G to the Gallery e, from the end of which the echo of the building might be heard to the greatest advantage.
  16. One of Fifteen Triangular Platforms, used for painting the sky.
  17. Platforms fixed on the ropes of the Gallery e, used for finishing and clouding the sky.
  18. Different methods for getting at the lower parts of the canvass.
  19. Baskets for conveying colours, &c. to the artists.
  20. Cross or Shears; formed of two poles, from which a cradle or box is suspended, for finishing the picture after the removal of all the scaffolding and ropes.
Giovanni Segantini – Letter to the people of Engadin (German)

Geehrte herren Engadiner!

Das Projekt, welches ich Ihnen vorlese, geehrte Herren Engadiner, Söhne dieser Alpen, ist kühn, aber klar wie das Sonnenlicht, das diese unsere Berge beleuchtet. Ich bin der Welt as Maler des Hochgebirges bekannt. Meine Kunst ist zwischen der ernsten Majestät dieser Berge geboren und hat sich hier zu höheren Formen entwickelt. Meine Vorfahren waren Bergbewohner; der Geist der Alpen hat sich meinem Geiste mitgeteilt der ihn sofort ergriffen und auf der Leinwand wiedergegeben hat. Die Männer der Kunst Fühlten diese neue Seele in meinem Werke, verstanden sie und waren davon überzeugt; denn unser Werk ist Geist und Stoff der Natur, und ich bin nur deren getreuer Dolmetsch. Und als Dolmetsch komme ich Ihnen, Herren Engadiner, ein ungeheures Werk anzubieten, das mir eigegeben wird von der stolzen Schönheit dieser Berge und von der dankbaren Liebe, die mich mit diesem herrlichen Stück der Natur verbindet, wegen den hohen Gefühlen und den künstlerischen Eingebungen, die ich von ihnen empfing und die mir die Stelle einbrachten, die ich in der Kunst besitze. Unser Engadin muß in der Welt mehr geschätzt und bekannt werden, und zu diesem Zwecke wird sich vielleicht niemals eine günstigere Gelegenheit darbieten, as jene, die uns die große Ausstellung gibt, die Paris am Ende des Jahrhunderts als Rendez-vous der Intelligenz und des Reichtums bietet. Ich dachte, es sollten alle die Schönheiten, die uns umgeben, in dieser gewaltigen Ausstellung ihren würdigen Platz finden, und habe das Projekt erdacht, das der Zweck unserer Versammlung ist und welches, verwirklicht, die höchste Auszeichnung unter dem Besten dieser zukünftigen Weltausstellung sein wird.

Es handelt sich, wie Ihnen schon bekannt ist, um ein gewaltiges Panorama, das die herrlichsten und hervorragendsten Punkte unseres Oberengadins darstellen und davon eine künstlerische Zusammenfassung sein soll. Dieses Panorama wird mit den andern, die man bisher sah, nichts zu tun haben. Ich beabsichtige das ganze feste Gerippe dieser Alpenjoche in ihrem vollen Lichte und der Klarheit der Luft auf die Leinwand zu bringen, indem ich im Beobachter die vollkommene Illusion erwecke, er befinde sich im Hochgebirge zwischen grünenden Weiden, umgeben von schroffen Felsen, die den Himmel durchzacken, und ewigen Gletschern, die in der Sonne funkeln, welche mit nie versiegendem frischem Wasser die waldigen Abhänge und unsere fruchtbaren Täler erfreuen, die wie smaragdene Mulden im Lichte lächeln.

Die Meisterschaft der Kunst, die durch langes Studium und große Liebe angesichts dieser Natur erreicht wurde, vermag das Licht, die Luft, die Entfernungen und den Hintergrund zu heben, den wahren Geist des Gebirgs mit seinem feierlichen Schweigen, seiner ernsten und erhabenen Poesie und dem lächelnden, tiefen Frieden, der nur unterbrochen wird von der lieblichen Musik der Alpen, von fernem Rauschen des Bergbaches bis zum Gelispel des Laubes, vom Gebrüll der Herden bis zum unbestimmten Geläute des auf den grasigen Abhängen weidenden Biehes.

Der Kunst wird die Wissenschaft zu Hilfe kommen, um den gewollten Effekt zu erzielen; wir werden elektrische Ventilatoren haben zur Erzeugung der Frische, verschiedene berechnete Unordnungen von Licht und Schatten, hydraulische Einrichtungen und akustische Werke, und alles, was am besten dazu dienen kann, die Vorstellung des Besuchers am vollständigsten und lebhaftesten zu machen, als befände er sich wirklich auf unsern Bergen.

Das im Hintergrund gemalte Panorama wird einen Umfang von 220 Meter umfassen und eine Höhe von 20 Meter haben, mit einer Oberfläche von 4400 Quadratmeter. Man begreift leicht, wie man bei einer solchen Ausdehnung des Gemäldes alle die schönsten Punkte darstellen und die größten Effekte der Entfernung haben kann, von den fernen Bergketten bis zu den nahen, imponierenden Massiven des Bernina und des Albula. Alle hauptsächlichsten Gegenden eines Tales werden daran teilnehmen, von St. Moritz, Samaden, Pontresina und Maloja, bis Silvaplana, Celerina, Sils und Bernina, getreulich dargestellt mit ihren malerischen Schönheiten, ihren Seen und ihren großen Hotels. Wie in einer künstlerischen Zusammenfassung wird sich in dem Blicke des Beschauers eine Ausdehnung von mehr als 20 Kilometer darstellen in ihren hervorragendsten Punkten, ein wirkliches Kompendium des Oberengadins.

Der Innenraum wird eine Oberfläche von 3850 Quadratmeter umfassen und im Zentrum wird ein Berghügel von 75 Meter Umfang und 16 Meter Höhe Platz finden, mit zwei Straßen, einem Auf- und Abstieg, die in geneigten Halbkreisen angelegt sind und von denen jede die Hälfte des Panoramas überblickt, das man vollständig von der obern Plattform überschaut. Diese Erhebung wird wahrheitsgetreu das Gebirge darstellen mit seinen Klippen, seinen Fichten und Arven, den senkrechten Felsen, den Spalten, dem mit Moos und Flechten bedecten Gestein, den kleinen Brücken, den in die Schluchten stürzenden Bächen, den Büschen von Alpenrosen und wohlriechenden Kräutern, überhaupt alles, was wir wirklich sehen, wenn wir durch einen unserer Bergwege hinansteigen.

Der Raum zwischen dem Kreis des Panoramas und dem Aufstieg zur Aussicht wird 3397 Quadratmeter bei einer Breite von 23 Meter einnehmen, mehr als genügend, um den Blick zur gewollten Illusion vom Talgrund zu führen und sähig Ställe, Heuschober voll duftenden Heues, weidendes Bieh, sowie die verschiedenen Eigentümlichkeiten des Bodens und die bedeutendsten botanischen und zoologischen Varietäten unseres Landes aufzunehmen.

Die Besucher werden auf der einen Seite des Gebäudes eintreten und auf der entgegengesetzten hinausgehen. Eine in den Fels gehauene Galerie, mit Öffnungen, die sich wie natürliche Spalten von Zeit zu Zeit auf einzelne Stücke der Aussicht auftun, wird sie an den Fuß des Aufstieges führen. Eine andere ähnliche bedeckte Straße wird vom Fuß des Abstieges zum Ausgang leiten. Die Länge der Straße wird vom Eingang bis zu dem entgegengesetzten Ende 318 Meter und die Breite 2 Meter betragen, indem man annähernd einen Raum von 700 Quadratmeter berechnet, und wird bequem 2000 Besucher fassen können, die sich jede halbe Stunde erneuern würden, was in einem Tage von 8 Stunden die Gesamtsumme von 32000, in einem Monate von 960 000 und in 6 Monate von 5 760 000 Besuchern ergeben würde.

Das ganze, in Eisen errichtete Gebäude würde einen Gesamtraum von 3850 Quadratmeter einnehmen und hätte eine Höhe von 25 Meter mit einer Fassade von zirka 40 Meter Länge und 30 Meter Höhe, auf der ich in symbolischen Bildern alle Dörfer des Oberengadins abbilden würde.

Es Blieben so noch 3200 Quadratmeter Außenwand übrig, die zur Reklame dienen könnten, aber davon, wie von sehr vielen andern Vorteilen (wie dem Verkaufe unserer ländlichen Produkte, den Namen der im Panorama selbst Platz findenden Gasthöfe usw.) spreche ich jetzt nicht, da man sich dieselben leicht vorstellen kann und sie zudem abhängig sind von den Eingebungen, die gewiß von den interessierten Kreisen in Überfluß kommen werden.

An der letzten Weltausstellung von Paris im Jahre 1889 hatte man 25 500 000 Besucher und in den fünf Monaten, während welchen der Eiffelturm in Betrieb war, erzielte man einem Gewinn von 5 500 000 Franken. Es genügen diese beredten Zahlen, um einen Begriff von dem Besuchsstrome der künftigen Ausstellung im Jahre 1900 zu geben, welche allgemein dafür angesehen wird, daß sie die vergangene in jeder Beziehung bei weitem übertreffen werde, infolge der offiziellen Teilnahme aller Rationen der Welt.

Letzte praktische, definitive Studien und die Vermehrung der bemalten Fläche um mehrere tausend Quadratmeter haben meinen ersten Voranschlag notwendigerweise abgeändert. Für das zum Unternehmen notwendige Kapital glaube ich nun, daß ein Voranschlag von 500 000 Franken den Erfolg sicherstellen könne. Diese Summe soll durch Aktien gezeichnet werden. Alle nötigen Auslagen werden durch eine, von den Aktionären erwählte Kommission geprüft, von der ich das Geld, je nachdem ich dessen allmählich bedarf, verlangen werde. Für die ersten Arbeiten brauche ich nicht mehr als 50 000 Franken. Ich verlange für mein Werk keinerlei vorausgehende Vergütung. Sowie die Aktionäre ihr volles Kapital erhalten, werde ich mitt 25 Prozent am Gewinne teilhaben bis zu einem Reingewinn von einer halben Million, dann d. h. von einer halben Million Reingewinnes aufwärts, mit 50 Prozent.

Als Garantie kann die Gesellschaft eine Kommission ernennen, welche nach Belieben von dem Fortschreiten meines Wertes Kenntnis nehmen kann. Mein Name, mein Charakter und meine Stellung in der Kunst werden gleichfalls für mich bürgen.

Wegen des Raumes müßten die Engadiner durch ihren Großratsabgeordneten offiziell die Regierung befragen. Indem dieser die nötigen Erklärungen abgibt, wie das Panorama einmal zu Ende geführt werden soll, würde die Regierung diesen Raum zugleich mit jenem verlangen, den sie sonst schon für den Rest der eigenen Ausstellung bedarf.

Nachdem ich so die Hauptzüge des Projekts ausgeführt habe, glaube ich nicht mich noch darüber verbreiten zu sollen, dessen Nutzen zu beweisen. Das Panorama wird der größte Anziehungspunkt der Pariser Weltausstellung sein und der Ruhm und der Name, die sich daraus für unser liebes Oberengadin ergeben werden, wird keine Kleinigkeit sein. Nach beendigter Ausstellung wird das Panorama mit der erworbenen Bekanntheit in den großen Städten der Welt zirkulieren. Es werden also mindestens 15 Jahre fortwährender Ausstellung und beständiger Reklame für unser Tal, das es so verdient, sein, in den reichsten Hauptstädten Europas und Amerikas. Schon von heute an wird die Presse, falls das Projekt beschlossen wird, und drei Jahre beständige Reklame zum voraus bieten, indem sie sich mit demselben ausgiebig beschäftigt.

Ich bestehe auf nichts weiter. Die Klarheit liegt in den Grundzügen meiner Idee selbst. Ich danke Ihnen für die ernstliche Erwägung, welche Sie derselben gewürdigt, sowie für die freundliche Einladung zu dieser sympathischen Versammlung und bin zufrieden, wenn mein Werk das Ansehen und den Ruhm dieses unsres Tales vermehren können wird, das ich als mein natürliches Vaterland und die Eingeberin meiner Kunst verehre.

Giovanni Segantini – Letter to the people of Engadin (Translated)

Dear gentlemen of Engadin!

The project that I am reading to you, dear gentlemen of the Engadin, sons of these Alps, is bold but clear, like the sunlight that illuminates these mountains of ours. I am known to the world as a painter of the high mountains. My art was born among the solemn majesty of these mountains and has developed here into higher forms. My ancestors were mountain people; The spirit of the Alps communicated itself to my spirit, which immediately seized it and reproduced it on the canvas. The men of art felt this new soul in my work, understood it and were convinced of it; for our work is the spirit and substance of nature, and I am only its faithful interpreter. And as an interpreter I come to offer you, gentlemen of the Engadin, a tremendous work that was inspired to me by the proud beauty of these mountains and by the grateful love that connects me with this wonderful piece of nature, because of the high feelings and the artistic inspirations, which I received from them and which brought me the position I hold in art. Our Engadin must be more appreciated and known in the world, and for this purpose a more favorable opportunity will perhaps never present itself than that which the great exhibition gives us, which will make Paris at the end of the century a rendez-vous of intelligence and wealth offers. I thought that all the beauties that surround us should find their worthy place in this tremendous exhibition, and I conceived the project which is the purpose of our gathering and which, when realized, will be the highest distinction among the best of this future world exhibition .

As you already know, it is a huge panorama that represents the most magnificent and outstanding points of our Upper Engadin and is intended to be an artistic summary of them. This panorama will have nothing to do with the others that have been seen so far. I intend to bring the entire solid framework of these Alpine yokes onto the canvas in their full light and the clarity of the air, giving the observer the complete illusion that he is in the high mountains between green pastures, surrounded by rugged rocks that jagged the sky, and eternal glaciers that sparkle in the sun, which delight with never-ending fresh water the wooded slopes and our fertile valleys, which smile like emerald hollows in the light.

The mastery of art, achieved through long study and great love in the face of this nature, is able to elevate the light, the air, the distances and the background, the true spirit of the mountain with its solemn silence, its solemn and sublime poetry and the smiling, deep peace, which is only interrupted by the lovely music of the Alps, from the distant murmur of the mountain stream to the whisper of the leaves, from the roar of the herds to the vague ringing of the animals grazing on the grassy slopes.

Science will come to the aid of art to achieve the desired effect; we will have electric fans to produce freshness, various calculated disarrays of light and shade, hydraulic arrangements and acoustic works, and everything that can best serve to make the visitor's imagination most complete and vivid, as if he were really there on our mountains.

The panorama painted in the background will have a circumference of 220 meters and a height of 20 meters, with a surface of 4400 square meters. It is easy to understand how, with such an extent of the painting, one can represent all the most beautiful points and have the greatest effects of distance, from the distant mountain ranges to the nearby, impressive massifs of the Bernina and the Albula. All the main areas of a valley will take part, from St. Moritz, Samaden, Pontresina and Maloja, to Silvaplana, Celerina, Sils and Bernina, faithfully represented with their picturesque beauties, their lakes and their large hotels. As if in an artistic summary, the viewer will see an extension of more than 20 kilometers in its most outstanding points, a real compendium of the Upper Engadin.

The interior will cover a surface of 3850 square meters and in the center will accommodate a mountain hill 75 meters in circumference and 16 meters high, with two streets, an ascent and a descent, laid out in inclined semicircles, each of which covers half of the panorama which can be completely overlooked from the upper platform. This elevation will faithfully represent the mountains with their cliffs, their spruces and pine trees, their vertical rocks, their crevices, their rocks covered with moss and lichens, their small bridges, their streams cascading into the gorges, their bushes of alpine roses and fragrant herbs, In general, everything we really see when we climb up one of our mountain paths.

The space between the circle of the panorama and the climb to the view will occupy 3397 square meters with a width of 23 meters, more than enough to lead the eye to the desired illusion of the valley floor and see stables, haystacks full of fragrant hay, grazing animals, as well to record the various peculiarities of the soil and the most important botanical and zoological varieties of our country.

Visitors will enter from one side of the building and exit from the opposite. A gallery carved into the rock, with openings like natural crevices opening up from time to time to individual pieces of the view, will lead you to the foot of the climb. Another similar covered road will lead from the bottom of the descent to the exit. The length of the street will be 318 meters from the entrance to the opposite end and the width will be 2 meters, approximately calculating a space of 700 square meters, and will comfortably accommodate 2000 visitors who would renew every half hour, which in one Days of 8 hours would result in the total of 32,000, in a month of 960,000 and in 6 months of 5,760,000 visitors.

The entire building, made of iron, would take up a total area of 3850 square meters and would be 25 meters high with a facade about 40 meters long and 30 meters high, on which I would depict all the villages of the Upper Engadin in symbolic images.

There are still 3200 square meters of external wall left that could be used for advertising, but I'm not talking about that now, as well as many other advantages (such as the sale of our rural products, the names of the inns that are included in the panorama itself, etc.). They are easy to imagine and they also depend on inspiration, which will certainly come in abundance from interested parties.

The last Universal Exposition in Paris in 1889 had 25,500,000 visitors and in the five months during which the Eiffel Tower was in operation, a profit of 5,500,000 francs was achieved. These eloquent figures are sufficient to give an idea of the flow of visitors to the future exhibition in the year 1900, which is generally considered to have far exceeded the previous one in every respect, owing to the official participation of all the rations of the world.

Final practical, definitive studies and the increase of the painted area by several thousand square meters have necessarily modified my initial estimate. For the capital required for the company, I now believe that an estimate of 500,000 francs could ensure success. This sum is to be subscribed through shares. All necessary expenses will be examined by a commission elected by the shareholders, from which I will demand the money as I gradually need it. I don't need more than 50,000 francs for the initial work. I do not demand any prior compensation for my work. As soon as the shareholders receive their full capital, I will share 25 percent of the profits up to a net profit of half a million, then that means from half a million net profit upwards, with 50 percent.

As a guarantee, the company can appoint a commission, which can take note of the progress of my value at will. My name, my character and my position in art will also vouch for me.

Because of the space, the people of Engadin would have to officially question the government through their Grand Council representative. By giving the necessary explanations as to how the panorama should be completed, the government would demand this space at the same time as the space it would otherwise need for the rest of its own exhibition.

Having thus explained the main features of the project, I don't think I should go on about it to prove its usefulness. The panorama will be the biggest attraction of the Paris Universal Exposition and the fame and name that will result from it for our dear Upper Engadin will be no small thing. After the exhibition is over, the panorama will circulate in the major cities of the world with the fame it has acquired. So there will be at least 15 years of constant exhibition and constant advertising for our valley, which so deserves it, in the richest capitals of Europe and America. From today onwards, if the project is approved, the press will provide constant advertising for three years by dealing extensively with it.

I insist on nothing more. The clarity lies in the basic features of my idea itself. I thank you for the serious consideration which you have given to it, as well as for the friendly invitation to this sympathetic meeting and I am satisfied if my work can increase the prestige and fame of this valley of ours, which I revere as my natural fatherland and the inspiration of my art.