Sunday, November 12, 2017

Panoramas in the Goethezeit

Vance Byrd, professor in the German department at Grinnell College, was at the recent Atkins Conference of the GSNA. Vance and I were on a panel together at the previous conference three years ago, at which he gave a talk entitled "A Domestic Spectacle: Breysig's German Panorama and Bertuch's Modejournal." Breysig referred to the painter Johann Adam Breysig, who considered himself to be the inaugurator of the medium of panoramic views. Friedrich Justin Bertuch was the successful Weimar publisher and entrepreneur whose Journal des Luxus und der Moden brought panoramas -- and much else that was of consumer interest -- to the attention of the German reading public in the 1780s and 1790s.

The panel three years ago was the first act of Vance's project, which has now reached completion in a book entitled A Pedagogy of Observation: Nineteenth-Century Panoramas, German Literature, and Reading Culture (Bucknell UP, 2017), which is now available from Amazon. The cover is a detail from a painting of 1830 entitled The Panorama by the painter C.G.H. Gei├čler.

Vance kindly sent me some images of the oldest extant cyclorama, representing the town of Thun and the mountains of the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland, which was created in the years 1800-1814 by Marquard Wochar. According to the website of the Thun Kunstmuseum, the panorama (280 square meters) has undergone two restorations, the most recent by Michael Fischer, son of the first restorer in 1899. (Go to the museum's website for more pictures and documentation.) In the 1960s a rotunda was built for observing the panorama. In the photo above, you can see the illusionistic effect provided by the platform. (As usual, click on images to enlarge.)

Detail of Thun panorama
Vance's argument is that most people did not have the opportunity to view these magnificent paintings, but instead received their knowledge of them from publications like that of Bertuch. As Vance writes, "By reading about what editors, newspaper correspondents, and writers referred to as 'panoramas,' curious Germans learned about a new representational medium and a new way to organize and produce knowledge about the scenes on display, even if they had never seen these marvels in person." In this way, they were led to witness, if at second hand, industrial transformations, urban development, scientific exploration, and so on.

Picture credit: Kunstmuseum Thun Depositum Gottfried Keller-Stiftung

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