I think this is pretty cool. Below you should be able to see a photo I took of a panoramic painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This is John Vanderlyn’s (1775–1852) ‘Panoramic View of the Palace and Gardens of Versailles’ (1818–19). It is a 360º painting which fills a room. You should be able to click and drag left and right on the photo below to move round and round in circles to see the whole painting.
This photo is a stitch of ten separate frames; you’ll note that I didn’t photograph the floor or the ceiling, which is why they are just black holes in the panorama. You need QuickTime in order to be able to view it, I’m afraid, and it probably won’t work in Internet Explorer.1 I will be publishing lots of photos from the Met and the Cloisters tomorrow or the next day, I hope; consider this a foretaste of things to come.
The gallery notes for this painting:
The picture covering the wall of this room is a rare survivor of a form of public art and entertainment that flourished in the nineteenth century. Invented in Great Britain in the 1780s, panoramas (Greek for “all-sight”) were displayed within the darkened interior of a cylindrical building. Illuminated by concealed skylights, these circular paintings offered the illusion of an actual landscape surrounding the viewer. Like Vanderlyn’s Versailles, panorama subjects were usually foreign landmarks. Visitors paid a small admission fee and were rewarded with vicarious travel to different parts of the world. During the Industrial Revolution, when urban populations expanded, global exploration blossomed, and tourism surged, the public crowded to panoramas as they do to movies today.
A native of Kingston, New York, Vanderlyn studied historical painting in Paris during the Napoleonic era and conceived his panorama project after seeing the American artist and inventor Robert Fulton establish a panorama theater on the Boulevard Montmartre. Vanderlyn made his preparatory studies at Versailles in 1814 and 1815 and executed the huge painting (circumference 166 feet) in a barn in Kingston three years later. He also raised money to construct, behind City Hall in New York, a handsome Palladian building called the Rotunda, in which he exhibited his panorama and historical paintings. The Rotunda was, in effect, New York’s first art museum.
In Vanderlyn’s panorama, the spectator stands at the head of the grand staircase on the parterre d’eau, or water park, with a view to the east of the massive western façade of the palace and to the west of the vast gardens, great avenue, and grand canal. Vanderlyn cast the scene in the warm sunshine of a late summer afternoon (according to the panorama program, between four and five P.M., in September 1814) and animated it with fashionably dressed visitors. In the center balcony of the palace stands King Louis XVIII, the restored Bourbon monarch, saluting a small crowd on the parterre below. On the right side of the view of the gardens is a circle of figures that includes Czar Alexander I of Russia (raising a monocle to his eye) and King Frederick William II of Prussia, who helped defeat Napoleon and restore the monarchy. (The location of these figures is indicated on the original diagram key to the panorama reproduced on the kiosk in this gallery.) The artist portrayed himself near the czar and the king, pointing out the sovereigns to an unidentified companion.