Virtual Reality of the Barouche Era. The Forgotten Art of Panoramic Paintings

The Racławice Panorama after conservation in 2016 at the National Museum in Wrocław. Within two weeks, i.e., the scenery of the painting was refreshed. The conservation cost approximately PLN 250 thousand. Photo: PAP/Maciej Kulczyński

They allowed the spectators to admire the struggles of the Battle of Trafalgar, the crowded streets of London and the sand dunes of Scheveningen, Jerusalem on the day of the Crucifixion and the arrival of the Hungarians in the Pannonian Plain. The battles of Waterloo, Borodino and, of course, Racławice, as well. The last one for 128 years, from the unveiling of Jan Styka and Wojciech Kossak’s work in Lviv (Lwów) on June 5, 1894.

Be it clump of trees, a chimney, a tower, or a crowd of people, there is always something to obstruct the view. And if you take a busy city, the mountains or the forest, something is simply bound to block the sight. A solution as old as the worlds itself, is to climb somewhere higher: daddy’s shoulders, a pole, tree branches, all these may serve the curious during battles and competitions.

And once you climb really high, you might just take a good look around. You may turn your head to the left, to the right, - and the whole world suddenly seems raised on its edges as if it were a big bowl. And how about painting it like that?

Paintings featuring the horizon have long been known to world civilizations. The Chinese are the leaders here (as usual in such cases): Along the River During the Qingming Festival by Zhang Zeduan was created at the end of the Song Dynasty, that is in the 12th century. The five-meter long scroll capturing the crowded Kaifeng with its inhabitants convivially celebrating a festival somewhat resembling our Forefathers Eve, or the All Souls’ Day, is full of farm animals, litters, carriages, boats and, most of all, silhouettes of people, 814 to be exact (well, it’s China!).

Long view of the city

However, it weren’t only the Chinese. Starting from the 17th century, European engravers, more and more often painted the so-called perspectives or “long views” of cities, featuring the entire town “from end to end” on one disproportionately long canvas. In this way, rather than replicating what can be seen with a single glance, they, as it were, “stitched” together successive views in one picture. Vaclav Hollar, a citizen of Prague was the most famous artist creating such works. The Thirty Years’ War cast Hollar first to Cologne, and then to London - where, already known as Wenzeslaus, he gained his followers and made a fortune.

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By Wojciech Stanisławski
Translated by Ewa Sawicka