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What is a Moving Panorama?

Adapted from the wikipedia.com articles “Moving Panorama,” “Panorama,” and “Panoramic Painting

Image of a moving panorama from Scientific American, Vol. 4, Issue 13 (December 16, 1848), page 100

The word “panorama” is derived from the Greek words “to see” and “all.” The word was coined in 1792 by Irish painter Robert Barker to describe his monumental painting of Edinburgh, which was exhibited to much acclaim in London’s Leicester Square. As Barker’s achievement became popular and much-imitated, the word “panorama” soon came to refer broadly to this type of enormous, 360-degree painting meant to surround the viewer and create an all-encompassing, illusionistic effect when viewed from the inside.

The moving panorama was a relative, more in concept than design, to such circular panoramas. Moving panoramas instead created an illusion of a progressive narrative unfolding before their viewers’ eyes.  Consisting of immense lengths of painted canvas and installed on large spools, they were scrolled past the audience behind a cut-out drop-scene or proscenium which hid the mechanism from public view. Moving panoramas almost always had a narrator, styled as its “Delineator” or “Professor,” who described the scenes as they passed and added to the drama of the events depicted. One of the most successful of these delineators was John Banvard, whose panorama of a trip up (and down) the Mississippi River had a successful world tour. From the 1850s into the 1880s, the moving panorama was among the most popular forms of entertainment in the world, with hundreds of panoramas constantly on tour in the United Kingdom, the United States, and many European countries.

The Saco Museum’s Moving Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress is one of the few moving panoramas to have survived to this day, and it is a standout due to its size, subject matter, and excellent condition.  Click here for examples of other surviving panoramas.

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